What kind of prime minister will Ehud Olmert be?
Assistants, advisers and senior officials who have worked with him in the last few months describe Olmert as, first and foremost, a resolute manager who likes to finish every meeting with a clear decision. Unlike his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, who flinched from decisions and preferred to leave his options open until the last minute, Olmert prefers to march down a paved road.
Olmert's announcement of his convergence plan for the evacuation of settlements beyond the West Bank separation fence is representative of his decisive approach and his tendency not to cloud his positions. Like Sharon, he considers it of supreme importance to project the image of a level-headed leader who acts with self-control even in difficulty.
That's the image Olmert tried to convey in the election campaign, and to a large extent he succeeded: He didn't panic after the surprising Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, and he ignored the jibes of his rival, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. The problem with this approach is that the display of indifference before the elections makes it hard to get voters to go to the polls. When the candidate is indifferent, that's how the voters are, too.
Olmert gives those officials who have gained his confidence the freedom to act as they want, but reserves the last word for himself. Sharon tended to read out loud the summaries of debates that his assistants had prepared. Olmert makes do with a few general points and summarizes the meetings himself. It's more important to him to display leadership and make decisions in accordance with his own views than to reach an agreement with everyone in the room.
Olmert formulated on his own the political messages he presented in the campaign, after consulting with Dov Weissglas. He prefers not to use prepared speeches. When he gave his written speech at the Herzliya Conference some two months ago, he looked like he was handcuffed.
Olmert's many years in politics have made him quite familiar with the public and financial systems in Israel. He already knows the senior government administration, the businessmen, the mayors, the army brass and foreign diplomats. He has an excellent memory, and takes an interest in the personal lives of the people to whom he speaks. Olmert is thus very accessible, and those who want to make their voices heard are able to reach him. The downside is that the support Olmert has may make it difficult for him to make unpopular decisions.
Olmert's weak point is his relations with the media. He feels hunted because of unflattering articles about him, and has shown an exaggerated preference for secrecy. His daily agenda is hidden from journalists, and he hastens to impose media blackouts on routine political debates. He will find it difficult to behave this way for long.
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