The first thing of note about this memoir by a former prime minister of Israel? Its publication by a think tank, not a major New York house, signaling the limited appeal of what lies inside. And, indeed, it does lack wide appeal. Through hundreds of pages, Olmert feels sorry for himself, makes excuses for his errors, blames others for his sins, and generally avoids responsibility for his ignominious fall from the Prime Minister's Office to Cellblock 10 in the Maasiyahu Penitentiary.
The author complains of "a prolonged campaign that began immediately after I entered the Prime Minister's Office in January 2006 and ended only after I was behind bars" in February 2016. Why did this alleged 10-year campaign take place? Because "the authorities had conspired against me" and
a tremendous array of forces, based not only in Israel but also in the United States, came to the conclusion early on that the government I led threatened something they held dear.
And what was that something they held dear? The belief "that any territorial compromise in the pursuit of a peace deal with the Palestinians was tantamount to treason." (One wonders why Rabin did not end up in prison.)
Playing the victim and pointing to conspiracy theories suits Olmert well. So, too, does its converse sin, boastfulness; the ex-prime minister claims he
led the most serious, ambitious effort to reach a final peace agreement with the Palestinians [that] came within a hair's breadth of resolving the world's most vexing conflict and changing the fate of both our peoples.
In fact, he did nothing of the sort, but rather came within a hair's breadth of greatly worsening the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Yet Olmert does have one major credit to his undistinguished life. As he himself notes, "Successfully destroying the Syrian nuclear reactor was, without question, the most important achievement of my career." That would be the bombing in September 2007 of a North Korean installation in northeastern Syria. Olmert's account here is of special interest, and especially concerning the different obstacles that George W. Bush and Ehud Barak placed in the way of the operation. Perhaps the mission's greatest accomplishment was simultaneously to destroy the reactor and not prompt a war. For this, despite his many failings, Olmert enduringly deserves credit.