Ehud Olmert.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Jonathan Klinger, used under CC BY-SA

Ehud Olmert, 70, will go down in the history books as the first former Israeli premier ever to go to jail.

The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia and the Ukraine, Olmert was born on September 30, 1945, in the town of Binyamina, north of Tel Aviv. His father was a legislator for Heirut, the precursor of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hardline Likud party.

Olmert, who studied psychology, philosophy and law, got involved in politics at a young age. At 28, he became the youngest lawmaker ever elected to the Knesset, Israel's parliament. He first became a minister in the 1983 Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir, returning as a minister for Shamir's second government in 1986.

The whole time, he also gained prominence as a lawyer. Then, starting in 1993, Olmert served for a decade as the mayor of Jerusalem, expanding the city's Jewish areas into land comprising the occupied West Bank.

In 2003, he returned to parliament - and the cabinet - as part of the Likud government of former premier Ariel Sharon, who appointed him head of a series of ministries: trade and industry; communications; and finance.

But the corruption conviction that sent him to jail Monday - revolving around taking bribes for construction contracts - cut short his long political career, one that saw the furthest-ever reaching peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Olmert's backers question the timing of the charges, saying that the allegations were brought by hardliners who opposed his far-reaching peace negotiations with the Palestinians. 

But critics fire back that the punishment is warranted. They argue Olmert is one of many politicians who gave preference to personal enrichment instead of the public good.

Both Olmert and Sharon started out as hawks but underwent pragmatic evolutions. Olmert became one of Sharon's strongest supporters in an otherwise rebellious Likud during the 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip. Along with Sharon, he went on to form the centrist Kadima party that year.

When Sharon suffered a stroke at the height of his popularity, Olmert was his natural successor.

Kadima under Olmert won the 2006 elections, but months later the second Lebanon war erupted. Olmert ended up spending most of his remaining term as - in his own words - an "unpopular" premier.

At a November 2007 summit in Annapolis, Maryland, Olmert revived long-stalled negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to Olmert and Abbas, Olmert offered the Palestinians more concessions than put on the table by any previous Israeli prime minister. But, in 2008, at the height of the negotiations, the move to indict forced Olmert to step down.

The charge that sent him to jail came about because aides accepted money in return for construction permits during Olmert's time as mayor of Jerusalem. He got additional time under a plea bargain in which he admitted to two counts of obstruction of justice, for trying to convince a former secretary not to cooperate with authorities in the proceedings against him. 

Early elections in 2009 pushed Kadima into the opposition, with Likud returning to power.

Known as a man who, on a personal level, enjoys the finer things in life, his family is thought to have influenced his decision to support a two-state solution. His wife is an artist, one of his daughters is a gay-rights activist, while another is in an Israeli group that monitors the conduct of soldiers at West Bank road blocks.

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