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Attila Somfalvi Photo: Gabi Menashe
Attila Somfalvi Photo: Gabi Menashe
 
 

The new magician

Despite low approval rating, Olmert able to boost his status, set the agenda

Attila Somfalvi
Published: 10.11.07, 07:06 / Israel Opinion

He could not have expected better news. The Ynet report, which revealed that the Winograd Commission does not intend to issue personal recommendations, constitutes a further boost to Ehud Olmert's status, which has been on the rise regardless. This further reinforces the estimate that the Olmert-led government is far from being dismantled.

 

Labor Party members, on the other hand, and particularly those who hoped to see Ehud Barak quit the government and lead to new elections in the first months of next year because of Winograd, will apparently have to continue privately fantasizing about taking power.

 

Slowly but surely, it turns out that Ehud Olmert is the new magician of Israeli politics. Although facing a lowly approval rating, he is able to manage a government that is considered rather successful, and even maneuver in the face of political obstacles with great talent.

 

At the toughest moments, when everyone already buried his political career, Olmert clung to his seat powerfully. He did not blink, he did not capitulate, and he refused to allow his rivals to dictate the agenda. For the time being, it appears he is the one dictating it and deciding on the government's moves. Not Barak, not Tzipi Livni, not Shaul Mofaz, not Bibi Netanyahu, and certainly not Avigdor Lieberman.

 

Taking his time

The Knesset's winter session opened Tuesday, and the spotlight is again directed at Olmert. Every word in his diplomatic speech, every message being conveyed, will serve to dictate the agenda in the coming months. The diplomatic move he is leading vis-à-vis the Palestinians is also a political move that keeps the Labor party glued to the coalition on the one hand, yet for the time being does not provide Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu with adequate reasons for quitting the government. Under such circumstances, Olmert can extend his stay at the Prime Minister's Office.

 

Several ministers, with typical hypocrisy, are attempting in recent days to convey a message of responsibility, caution, and moderation vis-à-vis progress with the Palestinians. Those who in recent years backed dialogue happen to be the ones that currently display a concerned façade. Livni, Mofaz, Barak and others repeatedly demand that Olmert act slowly and refrain from rushing. However, these statements are no more than the preparation of future excuses – this conduct is typical of Absurdistan, a country where the fear of taking responsibility paralyzes those who should constitute our political leadership.

 

One must be truly naïve, or lack any understanding of politics, in order to think that the prime minister intends to rush anywhere. He is not stupid. Olmert's strategy is to take his time, boost public discourse regarding the diplomatic progress, but refrain from running anywhere. There is enough time for that.

 

There is no reason that what did not happen in the past 10 years will happen within a few months. What Arafat did not do over many years, Mahmoud Abbas would not be able to do within two months. Even if the Palestinian Authority starts to fight Hamas and attempts to change its tone towards Israel, things will not change overnight.

 

It will take time. And Ehud Olmert will take his time and fill it with talk – and for the time being, he will remain the prime minister.

 

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