JERUSALEM — The overwhelming view in Israel on Friday, just hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared his innocence in a bribery investigation involving a Long Island businessman, was that the post-Olmert political era had already begun.
Calls for his resignation came from left, right and center, although all acknowledged that Olmert had won himself time by vowing, as he did Thursday night, to resign if charged. The investigation is likely to take another month or two.
"The public doesn't have too much more patience," said Colette Avital, a Parliament member from the Labor Party, a partner in the governing coalition with Olmert's Kadima Party. "He is simply discredited. It may take some more weeks, or even months, but he won't be able to go on."
Since Olmert has been investigated several times before and proved to be a survivor — a "Houdini," in the words of a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity — his political obituary may yet again prove premature.
This inquiry, however, is widely viewed as the most serious he has faced. It involves allegations that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from Morris Talansky of Long Island over a decade. Olmert said that they were legal campaign contributions.
"I look in the eye of each and every one of you and say: 'I never took a bribe,' " he said.
Shalom Yerushalmi, a commentator for the newspaper Maariv, wrote Friday that while the prime minister was asking to be believed, "If the public could respond collectively, it would, of course, ask: 'Why? For how many years can we hear about your escapades with the police and go on believing you?' "
Numerous analysts argued that Israel's intense security challenges could not be met effectively by a leader with such low public confidence. Peace negotiations with the Palestinians, which President Bush is hoping to advance by visiting here next week, and moves toward Syria require hard decisions, especially in the wake of the violent Hezbollah takeover in Beirut on Friday.
"Until now, Olmert was threatened but surviving, and it seemed he needed the peace negotiations as a source of strength, which Palestinian negotiators appreciated," said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian lecturer in cultural studies at Bir Zeit University. "But now it feels like he is headed out, and that is very bad news for the negotiations."