by RAY FLEMING

IT'S not a good time for prime ministers and presidents. Yesterday's Daily Telegraph poll could hardly have been worse for Gordon Brown. In France, just one year after Nicholas Sarkozy's triumph in the presidential election, his ratings have slumped. Thabo Mbeki is under pressure to resign in South Africa following his detached handling of the violence against immigrants from neighbouring African States. But by far the worst situation seems to be that in which Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert finds himself. At least the others can console themselves by believing they are being battered by forces beyond their control. But Mr Olmert's difficulties are wholly personal. An American businessman has testified that he gave Mr Olmert at least US$150'000 in cash, much of it stuffed into envelopes. Just over half of members of Mr Olmert's party, and 70 per cent of the general public, say they do not believe his claim that this money was used for election campaigns and there are widespread calls for him to resign.

There are worries that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will suffer from Mr Olmert's problems but since it was going nowhere anyway that is hardly a concern. Of greater importance is the standing on relations with Palestine of possible successors - Tzipi Livni, currently foreign minister, former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is now defense minister, and Benjamin Natanyahu, opposition leader. None of them is likely to enable President Bush to see a solution before he leaves the White House.

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