ANALYSIS: Bush visit gives Olmert a pre-Winograd respite
Visit takes attention from Winograd, though the first day can be summarized as schmaltz at its best.
When President George W. Bush gets to the door of Air Force 1 on Friday and waves us good-bye, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will look longingly at him, as if to say, "Please stay by my side until January 30, when that Winograd report lands on me!"
Those few short moments of joy that Olmert experienced, as the first prime minister in a decade to host an American president in office, will be only a sweet memory next week, as Olmert stands alone to face the countdown to, and the flood of speculation surrounding, the most important moment in his campaign for political survival, when the "tribal council" - the Winograd Committee - releases its report.
Meanwhile, Bush's first day here can be summarized as schmaltz at its best, from the tykes that performed at the President's Residence to the prime minister's performance of self-doubt at the joint press conference.
The flood of compliments Olmert showered on Bush - rather a failure as president who entangled his country in an unnecessary war - left him almost breathless. Even Bush seemed a little amused. He did not know he was all those things.
But that embarrassment was nothing compared to the shock on his face when he wandered into the miniature children's festival that Shimon Peres had arranged. When will we be weaned off those "Hava Nagilas?" and "Havenu Shalom Aleichems?" Why does the President's Residence believe that a reception for an American president who comes here an average of once every 15 years must look like a First Fruits festival at a kibbutz kindergarten?
Is that the reception he gets in Britain, France or Germany? Constant live updates, excited reports of every traffic jam, every word said or not said? It is doubtful, and we so want to look like those countries.
One of the heights of the grotesque broadcasts Wednesday was when Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski met Bush at the King David Hotel. "The president told me," Lupolianski reported proudly, "that he was impressed by the cleanliness of the city." Please. The streets along which the presidential motorcade traveled had been scrubbed until they sparkled. Let us see Bush pop over for a look at one of the streets that is not along the "sterile route."
Another defining moment came at the reception at Ben-Gurion International Airport. When it was over, the media reported that Bush had discussed their status in the coalition with ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai. The person most surprised to hear this was Bush's translator - Olmert, who heard not a shred of political-coalition dialogue.
If that is the report of a 30-second exchange on a windswept tarmac, it will be interesting to see what is reported Thursday, after the ministers get quality time with the president at dinner at the prime minister's residence, invitations to which also became a reason for our ministers to do battle.