A peace agreement with the Palestinians would have rehabilitated Ehud Olmert's reputation. And that's not solely a reference to allegations of misconduct that now engulf him. A sharp-tongued arrogance, brash style and shrewd intellect characterized his political persona before he became Israel's prime minister in 2006. Since then, he has modified his hard-line views and hardball tactics and become an advocate of peace. It was his hope to deliver an agreement with the Palestinians.
But in this part of the world, hope is often fleeting. It succumbs to the political reality, and Mr. Olmert's fate was increasingly that of a prime minister awaiting indictment. This week, he decided to leave on his terms and told Israelis that he would not run in his party's primary elections in the fall. It is a decision that cuts short his political career and sinks the beleaguered effort to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians before President Bush leaves office.
Mr. Olmert recently claimed to have made headway in talks with the Palestinians, though he offered no proof. Despite Mr. Bush's friendship with Mr. Olmert, the president contributed little to move these discussions forward. And Mr. Olmert's standing among the Israeli public has so tanked that even if he escaped indictment on political corruption charges and reached consensus with the Palestinians on some key issues, he would have been hard pressed to sell Israelis on a peace deal.
Mr. Olmert's decision to step down leaves Palestinians waiting for a new prime minister to emerge. Whether that person is a moderate from Mr. Olmert's party, the country's leading conservative or someone new, the peace process has been effectively been put on hold. If and how it resumes will depend greatly on the political choices Israelis next make.