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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Nahum Barnea
Party's just beginning
Olmert hopes to turn new leaf following release of Winograd interim report

At the end of Independence Day, during the Israel Prize ceremony, members of the "Hakol Over Habibi" pop group stood at the front of the stage with microphones in their hands. "And sometimes," singer Shlomit Aharon sang, "and sometimes, the party is over."

 

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sat at the rear of the stage. "Wake up tomorrow morning, with a new song in our heart," the group sang, and

Olmert joined in. First he sang quietly, shyly, but gradually he was singing wholeheartedly. The optimistic and stirring song by Naomi Shemer was to his liking.

 

"For you too," the group continued singing, "the party is over, and at midnight it is difficult to find the way back home." Olmert replied from the back: "Out of the darkness we seek to wake up tomorrow morning, and start from the beginning. Wake up tomorrow morning, with a new song in our heart…"

 

You could make no mistake about it: Everyone who was there, on stage and in the hall, wanted to wake up tomorrow morning and start anew; begin Israel's 60th year fresh from the start, and erase the 59th year from the board.

 

Yet the year refuses to be erased. When Knesset Speaker and presidential stand-in Dalia Itzik entered the hall with Olmert to the sound of trumpets, nobody got up. A day earlier, at the Memorial Day ceremony on Mount Herzl, when the prime minister's speech was announced, people turned their backs to the speakers. The people voted with their ears.

 

On Monday, the Winograd Commission is supposed to publish its interim report. It will include scathing criticism over the decisions taken in the six years before the war and over the government's and IDF's conduct during the first days of the war.

 

Yet the attention will be focused on one man: Ehud Olmert. Those who pressed for the establishment of a commission of inquiry hoped that the debate over the war can be settled through it. The report will do the opposite: It will open a new round of debate.

 

Slight left turn 

Each side will be using the quotes that are favorable to its cause. Olmert assumes he can expect two difficult weeks at the court of public opinion. Later, he hopes, he would be able to reinvent himself, wake up in the morning, and start anew.

 

In order to make it through the first two weeks, Olmert made a slight left turn. His assumption is that diplomatic moderation is a media-softening drug. Give them, those referred to as "public opinion shapers," a Saudi initiative, and they will relax. The headlines will become softer. The media will start protecting him.

 

Uzi Dayan, a politician without a party, seeks to convene a mass demonstration on May 3 that would call for the government's resignation. It is doubtful whether anyone from the political establishment would join him: Barak is hesitating, Netanyahu wishes to join in but is scared to arouse the anger of the voters, and Kadima members prefer to watch from the sidelines.

 

Olmert has a significant chance of surviving the first wave. His aides' argue that right after it he will give rise to the "second Olmert government."

 

Many Israeli leaders lost the public's faith and later got a second chance. The list is dignified: Rabin, Sharon, Begin to some extent, Dayan, and recently, Barak and Netanyahu. Yet none of them was able to rehabilitate while at office. They all rehabilitated themselves from the outside – from the opposition.

 

Olmert believes he will be the first one to succeed. For his sake let's hope he's right, even if we have our doubts. This week he spoke before activists of New York's Jewish Federation. As usual, he leaned against the podium, and his voice was distorted by the microphone.

 

His spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, passed him a note: "We can't hear, lean back." Olmert immediately read the note out loud. I'm not the kind of person that leans back, he said with pathos. I strive forward.

 

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