Ehud Olmert has the reputation of being the prince of Israel’s policy, a privileged son of an important family who lacks the military experience of the generations that founded Israel. This irritates the Israelis a great deal, but regarding issues like the withdrawal from Gaza last year, the First Deputy Minister showed a well-defined strategic vision and political trends that exceed those of his boss, Ariel Sharon.
The leader qualities of Olmert constitute a crucial element in the ongoing transition policy that was implemented after the Israeli Prime Minister had a brain stroke. Like Sharon, Olmert, who is inheriting the control of the new centrist party Kadima, is the favourite to become the next Prime Minister. He will have to convince the country that he will not carry out a more flexible policy and he is strong enough to protect Israel. Olmert was in the forefront when, several years ago, he suggested the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. At that moment, the Israelis were stuck in the peace process, in a wave of suicidal attacks and growing despair regarding the political future of the country. Olmert was one of first ones, in an interview to Ha’aretz, in stressing the fact that very soon the Jewish will be, from the demographic point of view, fewer than the Palestinians and Israel would lose its sole.
Disturbed by the perspective of the disappearance of the Israeli patriarch, some commentators felt that Olmert will not be able to continue with Kadima. What upsets the Israelis is that Sharon abandons politics, because without him, the heroic age of the great leaders is left behind. No politician will have Sharon’s credibility as a brave military leader. Olmert must prove his skills in this field.
If Olmert succeeds Sharon, he will obviously continue with the construction of the Israeli defence wall and adopt the “route map”. In order to prove that he is tough with the Palestinians, Olmert could ally with the former leader of Shin Beth, Avi Ditcher, and other hawks of security, and obviously, the most important thing will be to resume talks with the Bush administration in order to reactivate a new unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, which will be conducted with or without the existence of a Palestinian government.
“Can the “Prince” lead Israel ?”, by David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 11, 2006.
“Ehud Olmert is an unlikely, and an unliked, trailblazer”, Daily Star, January 12, 2006.