Olmert: Blair, Berlusconi were suspects, too

Ehud Olmert said the thought of foreign leaders who survived criminal probes is helping him deal with his legal woes.

“I look at the manner in which my friends Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi were in a similar situation,” the Israeli prime minister said in an interview published Wednesday, referring to his former counterpart in Britain and current counterpart in Italy.

“They were accused in similar ways, one of trading contributions for titles and one for trying to bribe a judge. They were cleared entirely and didn’t stop taking care of the sState,” he told the Times of London.

Israeli police launched an investigation this month into Olmert’s ties with an American fund-raiser from whom he received cash while in previous government posts. Olmert has denied wrongdoing and vowed to step down if indicted.

“You know when you get into this job that you’re not going to have fun,” he said. “You’re going to have tough months and difficult years.”

Among Olmert’s challenges is keeping Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going despite mutual recrimination.

Asked about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to resign if an accord is not achieved by year’s end, as requested by the United States, Olmert said, “I prefer not to think about it in these terms. I hope he will not step down, and I hope that in six months we will be in a different place altogether. I still think that the basic distance between what I and [Mr. Abbas] exchanged at the very initial stage was bridgeable.”

Olmert also doused speculation that he could arrange clemency for Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah militiamen serving a life jail sentence in Israel for murder, as part of a campaign to bolster Abbas against his Islamist Hamas rivals.

“Imagine that Barghouti is released tomorrow,” the prime minister said. “Is there a way for him to prove that he’s not a collaborator with the Israelis? There’s only one way: to be more extreme than the present leadership.”

 

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