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21 Sep, 2008 08:48

Olmert era ends in Israel

Ehud Olmert, officially resigned as Israel's prime minister on Sunday evening. He’s been under growing pressure to quit after investigations into alleged corruption during his three years in office.

Olmert says he will support Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni to replace him.  She was elected to succeed him as leader of the ruling Kadima party last week.

But Olmert, Israel’s twelfth prime minister, will stay on as PM until Livni can form a new government, which could result in a general election early next year.

Controversial figure

Olmert – a Jerusalem University graduate with degrees in psychology, philosophy and law – was born on Septermber 30, 1945 in Israel. His grandparents emigrated to the Holy Land from the European part of the Russian Empire.

He was injured while serving in the Israeli army and became a military journalist instead. During that time he worked at the headquarters of Ariel Sharon, who was then in charge of a reserve armored division who during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

In the same year Olmert was first elected to the Knesset (the Israeli parliament), and was successfully re-elected seven times. Following the Likud party’s defeat in 1993 elections – Olmert successfully ran for mayor of Jerusalem.

After serving two terms as mayor, he returned to the Knesset in 2003, becoming a key figure in Likud. After winning the following elections, Olmert was appointed as Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor and as Acting Prime Minister (a sort of ‘reserve prime minister’).

Appointed Finance Minister in 2005, he became PM Ariel Sharon’s right-hand man. When Sharon suffered a stroke in January of the next year, Olmert became caretaker PM, but became the new Prime Minister in May 2006.

As Israeli leader, Olmert continued the policy of remaining ambiguous about the country’s alleged nuclear arsenal. 

He sought to establish a partnership with major Arabic powers in exchange for giving up territories occupied by Israel.

He also advocated sanctions against Iran because of the Islamic Republic’s refusal to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Rumours and allegations of wrongdoing and illegal activities dogged his political life.

In the 1970s he was thought to be part of a complex organised crime group, but managed to settle the case out of court allegedly using his party’s funds to pay lawyers.

While in the mayor’s office in Jerusalem, Olmert along with Sharon were suspected of giving bribing and receiving bribes. The case was closed due to a lack of evidence.

A police inquiry into the circumstances of Olmert’s house sale in 1999 was carried out seven years later. The case is still open.

An investigation was launched into suspicions that while Finance Minister, Olmert tried to influence the sale of a bank to the benefit of a personal associate. Other accusations followed in 2007 and 2008.

Olmert is married and has five children.