In one of Federico Fellini's films, the young hero falls ill and, hallucinating and feverish, begins to speak dramatically, swearing and promising great things. His good mother sits next to him, nursing him and calming him with nods of agreement, without taking a single word of his seriously: "Yes, yes," she repeats.
That is more or less how the public has been receiving Ehud Olmert's words. After his meeting with Abbas, he said he is ready - only ready? really yearning! - to establish a Palestinian state as quickly as possible. The promises of his interlocutor are not even worth mentioning. Yes, yes: There will be peace, there will be a Palestinian state soon, the Palestinian gangs will be dismantled, the settlements will be removed, there are agreements and there will be meetings. Yeah, sure: The same government that cannot move a stone in an outpost will give the Palestinians "100 percent of the area of the West Bank." Even 200 percent. Yes, yes.
A long time ago - last year - those same declarations, which are now being received with a weary nod and half a yawn, could make the public jump, send it into the streets, and ignite debates. But now? Nobody would care if Olmert and Abbas were to announce that they had given birth to twins and were handing over Jerusalem to the Pope.
How did that happen? Initially, some of us still insisted on taking the first post-charismatic prime minister seriously. His inauguration speech was a work of art, full of promises, hope, optimism and sobriety. His following speeches were impeccable as well: logical, lacking illusions, realistic, rational. But slowly but surely, the unpleasant recognition dawned that perhaps the words and sentences connected, but the words and deeds did not. The words may be nice, but if they are not accompanied by deeds, it's all hot air - there's simply nothing behind it.
After being burned in his only significant act as prime minister - the Second Lebanon War - Olmert seemingly is being careful about doing anything about anything. Perhaps he began to sense there was no basis for his words, and he started guarding them as well. Eventually he became sparing even with his grand physical gestures, which met with scorn, until he finally arrived at some point of total self-effacement. The talk and the ideas were taken over by Shimon Peres, the quiet deeds were taken over by Ehud Barak, and where the prime minister stood, there remains only air without oxygen. A year later, Olmert seems to have filled devoutly one promise he made the day he began his term: to leave Sharon's chair empty.
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