Israel’s ex-PM Ehud Olmert granted early release from prison
JERUSALEM (AP) — The parole board of Israel’s Prison Service on Thursday granted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert early release from his 27-month corruption sentence, in perhaps the final chapter of a stunning fall from grace that forced him from office amid the last serious round of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Barring any unforeseen developments, Olmert will walk free on Sunday, July 2, said Prison Service spokesman Assaf Librati.
Israel’s Justice Ministry had objected to Olmert’s early release after asking police last week to investigate whether he committed a “criminal offense” when his lawyer was caught leaving the prison with a chapter of his unpublished book that contained “sensitive security issues.”
But the prison service decided otherwise and ordered that the 71-year-old Olmert, who was recently rushed to the hospital after complaining of chest pains, be released for good behavior.
Olmert’s attorney Shani Illouz said he was very pleased to be reunited with his family soon.
“The board accepted each and every one of our arguments,” she said. “Ehud Olmert will be released on Sunday.”
Olmert was convicted in 2014 in a wide-ranging case that accused him of accepting bribes to promote a real-estate project years in Jerusalem and obstructing justice. The charges pertained to a period when he was mayor of Jerusalem and trade minister before he became premier in 2006. His imprisonment ended the last major Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and ushered in the era of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009.
Olmert was a longtime fixture in Israel’s hawkish right wing when he began taking a dramatically more conciliatory line toward the Palestinians more than a decade ago. He played a leading role in Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and became prime minister in January 2006 after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke.
He resigned amid a corruption scandal that clouded his administration. He was later charged, convicted and imprisoned.
“It’s the end of an era. Olmert was definitely an active prime minister who really left a mark on Israeli politics,” said Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who predicted that Olmert’s voice would still be heard. “He will leave an impact on contemporary Israeli politics, but he will not be active as a full-time politician.”
Israel has sent other senior officials to prison, including Moshe Katsav, who held the largely ceremonial post of president and served prison time for rape. But Olmert was the first prime minister to be imprisoned.
A gifted orator, Olmert broke a series of taboos while in office — warning that Israel could become like apartheid South Africa if it continued its occupation of the Palestinians and expressing readiness to relinquish parts of the holy city of Jerusalem under a peace deal.
He led his government to the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007 — launching more than a year of ambitious, but ultimately unsuccessful U.S.-brokered peace talks. Olmert enjoyed a warm relationship with then-President George W. Bush.
Olmert has said he made unprecedented concessions to the Palestinians — including a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank and an offer to place Jerusalem’s Old City under international control — and was close to reaching an agreement at the time of his resignation.