Olmert. What will he do with report?
Photo: Gil Yohanan

Olmert's spring nap

Prime minister hopes sleepy political system will enable him to survive in office

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's verdict at the Winograd Commission report, slated to be published in less than two weeks at the moment, is approaching in giant leaps. But around Olmert it's as if nothing is happening. Smiles, handshakes, receptions, tours, session, and a meeting with Palestinian leader Abbas. There's talk about doing things, and besides that everything is fine, thank God and thanks for asking.


Olmert doesn't say he will accept the interim Winograd report conclusions. He also doesn’t say he will reject them. He doesn’t say whether he'll remain at the post if the report says he failed, or whether he'll resign. He's simply ignoring it. As if this isn't a commission he established himself in order to investigate one of Israel's most controversial wars ever. As if this isn't about the fate of an Israeli prime minister. As if he's not responsible.


As the commission obligated to publish the interim report by the end of April, there are four possible dates for this: Either Wednesday or Thursday of the coming week, or the following Sunday or Monday. That is, less than a week in the worst case scenario, and 11 days in the best case scenario.


Meanwhile we also have Memorial Day and Independence Day coming up. Only 11 more days, yet the political system is in the midst of its spring break nap. "As if we're not talking about a political hurricane, but rather, a pleasant morning breeze," a former minister and current Likud opposition member said.


On Sunday, Olmert warmly welcomed Abbas at his Jerusalem residence. On Tuesday he was on a secret tour we cannot report details of. On Wednesday he held three public appearances: A press conference to present a socioeconomic vision, the launching of a campaign for youth in distress, and a celebratory speech before the buyers of Israel Bonds. Later, instead of watching a soccer game involving his favorite team, Beitar Jerusalem (someone will be paying the price for this at the office,) he was hosted at an IDF training base in order to record his Independence Day speech to the people of Israel. Later in the week, he warmly received US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Jerusalem office.


In all the speeches and press conferences he took part in this week, the prime minister did not even once mention the Winograd report as a time for self-reflection, accountability, or resignation – should the report say he failed.


He had quite a few opportunities to say this in his public appearances, but Olmert is conveying a sense of business as usual. Moreover, he told the Bonds people from Europe and Latin America who arrived here on Wednesday that the situation in Israel is better than ever. The economy is prospering and Israel is the best place for investment. This time around he didn’t say he's creating a country that's fun to live in.


Sign of composure or PR move?

On the one hand, the prime minister may be an eternal optimist who only sees the glass half full. On the other hand, people who are well familiar with him are hinting that Olmert must convey a sense of everything being under control; of everything being alright.


"He cannot be expected to join those who are calling for his head" said someone in the know. "When the verdict is handed down, he will address Winograd. For now he must convey a sense of action and composure – particularly composure. After all, he is running a government and a country. If the opposition is not crying out, why should he?"


On the other hand, says someone else, who quit on time: "Olmert is undertaking the perfect public relations move. He's putting everyone asleep and when the Winograd report is finally published, the public effect that may lead to the resignation of a prime minister in Israel would be very much reduced. With the commission of inquiry into the Yom Kippur War, it was the public that led the moves that resulted in the resignation of Golda (Meir) and (Moshe) Dayan. Here, the public, and even more so the opposition, are sleepy. For Olmert this is an ideal situation."


A senior coalition minister estimated that based on the above scenario, Olmert will continue in his post at least until the full Winograd report is published, in the summer. "A year after the war everything may look different. If Olmert gets past the Winograd interim report, he would gain another three months of survival at least. He needs this quiet now," the minister said.


These words make sense. In the meantime, Defense Minister Amir Peretz may end up losing the Labor primaries and Olmert will have a new, more suitable defense minister. The Finance Minister, whose investigation embarrassed Olmert, will also be replaced. The state comptroller, attorney general, and the police will complete their investigations against Olmert by that time, and may very well clear him of wrongdoing.


Olmert's political situation will remain stable, as there are no substantive political moves that can threaten his term in office, whether on the part of Labor or Israel Our Home. Olmert only needs to get through the Winograd interim report safely and quietly, and he'll have another dawn of hope.


פרסום ראשון: 04.21.07, 15:06
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