Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday successfully managed his first test following the release of the Winograd Committee's harsh report on the government's performance during the Second Lebanon War. The immediate pressure for his resignation has subsided.
Instead of dealing with Olmert's culpability, the media will feast today on his rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, describing her as an opportunistic and spineless politician who sold out just to keep her seat in power.
For the media, nothing beats humiliating the stars of yesteryear and destroying the immaculate image of Teflon icons. By deciding to stay in Olmert's cabinet after she called on him to resign, Livni has provided all her critics with ammunition.
A satisfied Olmert looks around. A weakened and humiliated Livni will remain in the Foreign Ministry. The prospect of a putsch within Kadima's ranks has burst like a soap bubble, along with the fear of a ministerial mass desertion that could topple Olmert's government.
Avigdor Yitzhaki, who had harassed Olmert in recent months, quit the post of coalition chair. The treasury is still headless, providing Olmert with interesting options regarding personnel. He might offer it to Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu, who regards himself as "Mr. Economy." The same Netanyahu has kept an especially low profile since the release of the Winograd report last Monday.
Additionally, ministers Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter pledged their allegiance to Olmert yesterday, and Shaul Mofaz called for the fortification of the government. In short, the members of the ruling party have closed the gaps around the prime minister.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Defense Minister Amir Peretz is not going anywhere. His views on security are of no importance or consequence to Olmert, but as long as Peretz remains in office, his Labor party will remain a loyal partner in the coalition. As long as Peretz continues to preside, Olmert will not be the only one on the field who received criticism from the Winograd report.
The stunt Olmert has used is simple enough. He absorbed the initial shock and changed tactics. On Tuesday, his associates began speaking about him as an interim prime minister. Just let him make it through to the summer, to the committee's final report - then we'll see.
The report presented Olmert as a failure, but it also gave him a precious gift: an agenda. Now he can strive to implement its recommendations. "We made the mess, and we will clean it up," he told his ministers yesterday. Now he will market himself as the national rectifier.
Olmert still faces difficult challenges. Will today's rally for his resignation pick up pace? How will he deal with Ehud Barak, if he replaces Peretz as Labor chair? These are veritable conundrums, but at least he got to stay on the playing field.
Olmert may have failed as a leader, as the Winograd Committee has concluded, but yesterday he proved yet again that he certainly does knows his politics.
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