JERUSALEM – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday that he would not return to politics, two days after he was acquitted of the central charges in a corruption trial.
Speculation over whether he may return to political life has been rife since a Jerusalem court dismissed most of the counts against him on Tuesday.
The charges cut short Olmert's premiership three years ago, ending all serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Many observers today ask themselves how the Middle East may have looked had he stayed in office.
Israeli newspapers, radio stations and TV channels were all humming Thursday with talk of a possible political comeback. Olmert's own close aide, Jacob Galanti, held out the possibility when he told Israel Radio on Thursday that the former Israeli leader wouldn't decide whether to re-enter politics until his trial in a separate real estate bribery case ends, perhaps a year from now.
But at a conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Olmert tried to lay comeback talk to rest.
"I have no intention of entering politics," he said.
Ultimately, the decision to re-enter the political arena might not be left to him.
Although a three-judge bench cleared Olmert on Tuesday of the most serious charges against him — illicitly taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a U.S. businessman and double-billing Jewish organizations for overseas travel — he was convicted on a lesser charge of breach of trust for steering government contracts to a friend's clients.
Legal commentators have predicted he won't be sent to jail when the court sentences him on Sept. 5 — but he could be barred from politics for seven years if the judges decided his crime reflected "moral turpitude."
Olmert announced his resignation after he was indicted in late 2008, but remained prime minister until February 2009 elections that brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power.
In the few rare interviews he has given since leaving office, he suggested that he and the Palestinians were tantalizingly close to reaching a peace deal, though Palestinian officials call that an overstatement.
The Palestinians and Netanyahu have not been able to get peace talks back on track since.