“Butcher of Lebanon” resigns in disgrace

Ehud Olmert officially tenders his resignation as Prime Minister of Israel and Tzipi Livni is expected to take his place. The “Butcher of Lebanon” is no more.

Olmert told his Cabinet yesterday morning that he would resign and followed that with a visit to the official Jerusalem residence of President Shimon Peres — both formalities in a process that began in late July, when Olmert caved under the pressure of multiple corruption probes and announced he would step down after the Kadima primary election.

“This decision was not easy, it was not simple, and it was not taken in an offhanded way,” Olmert said before the start of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. He pledged to help Livni, a longtime rival, form a new government.

“Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented to me this evening his resignation as head of the government,” Peres said after the two met. Peres thanked him for his service. Olmert did not talk to reporters.

At stake is political stability in Israel as the clock winds down on a January target date for a peace accord with the Palestinians, set by Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a US-sponsored peace conference last November.

Livni favours negotiations and making concessions to forge a peace agreement, but if she fails to form a coalition, elections would be called, and Israel might not have a new government until next spring. That could freeze peace efforts for months.

Olmert succeeded the popular and respected Ariel Sharon, who was felled by a stroke, and weeks later Olmert led Israel into a war with Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon. The decision to go to war and its inconclusive outcome, along with the damage wrought by almost 4,000 rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah, decimated Olmert’s popular support.

Then old corruption allegations caught up with him. Police began pressing their investigations, and a key witness testified in a “trial” against Olmert though no charges had been filed. That led Olmert to step down, setting the search for a new leader in motion.

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