Head to Head MK Meir Sheetrit on Olmert, His Appointments and His Relationship With Barak

In Olmert's forthcoming memoir, excerpts of which were recently released, the former prime minister says he never promised Sheetrit he would appoint him finance minister, despite Sheetrit's statements to the contrary.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Knesset's longest-serving incumbent, Meir Sheetrit of Kadima has served in the parliament since 1973. In Ehud Olmert's cabinet, he was the minister of housing and construction and in charge of the secret services.

Meir Sheetrit standing in front of the Knesset. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

In Olmert's forthcoming memoir, excerpts of which were recently released, the former prime minister says he never promised Sheetrit he would appoint him finance minister, despite Sheetrit's statements at the time accusing Olmert of breaking just such a promise.

MK Sheetrit, did Ehud Olmert cause damage to your image when he said he never promised you the treasury?

I don't think he caused damage to my image. But he is certainly not being precise about this matter. He wrote in his book about the first meeting between us after Ariel Sharon went into a coma. I told him at the time that I did not intend to run against him for the premiership because I understood this would cause a rift in Kadima. I told him I supported him in the position and that there was no logic to starting a race for the post. But, contrary to what Olmert wrote, I did not ask him for anything whatsoever. His memory has misled him.

The conversation about the possibility of appointing me finance minister took place almost two months later. I was the head of Kadima's election staff and I organized all the local teams in different parts of the country. I would meet with Olmert once a week on a regular basis. During one of these meetings, Olmert asked me which position I would like in his government. I told him that the position that seemed best to me was that of finance minister, a position I had held before. Unfortunately, the meeting was just between us; it's a shame no one else was present. He told me that if we got the portfolio, I would be his first choice to fill the position. When he did not keep his promise, I spoke out against him and said he had not told the truth.

When there were preliminary reports in the newspapers that he was planning to give the portfolio to Abraham Hirchson, Olmert said to me: "Don't believe the papers, it's not true." But it turned out that it was completely true. When he ultimately informed me of this, I left his office and banged the door. In the end, Olmert appointed me housing minister and added to this the Israel Lands Administration and put me in charge of the secret services and energy, so as to placate me. I decided ultimately that there was no point in resigning.

I believe he made a mistake when he appointed Hirchson. In the long run, he too understood his mistake. When he did not give me the treasury, I asked to continue in my job as transportation minister, but he had promised this to [Shaul] Mofaz. That too was not nice. At least let me finish the job.

If that's the case, then Olmert explicitly reneged on the promise he made you?

That was not the only time that he did not keep promises he had made me. The same thing happened, for example, when he appointed me to replace Haim Ramon as justice minister. I went into the job as a replacement for three months. Olmert arranged with me that if Ramon did not return to the government, I would get the position on a permanent basis. However, he changed his mind about that too. I would not have agreed to take over the job if he hadn't made that arrangement with me.

When my temporary appointment was up, he forced Tzipi Livni to take over the portfolio and only then did he appoint Professor Daniel Friedmann as justice minister on a permanent basis. I can vouch for every word I have said. Every person has his own history. It has never happened with me that I said something that was not correct or not true. I am now the most veteran MK, from 1973.

Do you hold a grudge against Olmert for not keeping his promises? And for shaking off responsibility for them?

I got over that a long time ago. Despite everything, I think that Olmert was a good prime minister. He functioned excellently. He knew how to make decisions well. I didn't take revenge and I didn't bear a grudge, even though he had done that to me. I gave him support and backing when he was in trouble after the Second Lebanon War. I assisted him in the government and with time, he came to value my work. When the race took place in Kadima, he said publicly that the only one who was capable of replacing him was me. I am not angry with him. A person who writes memoirs can make mistakes.

Do you understand Olmert's decision to "settle accounts" with his coalition partners by writing his memoirs such a short time after leaving office?

Everyone has his own style. Former prime ministers also write books. Today he is no longer prime minister, but he is still young and he has a good memory. I don't think there is anything wrong with it, but one must be precise. What he said about me is, all in all, not that significant.

Did you notice, in real time, the tension between Olmert and Ehud Barak as it is reflected in the book?

The relationship between them was bad. Both in the inner cabinet and in the full cabinet. There were times when Olmert spoke to Barak in a very sharp way. I was present at a meeting like that, in which Olmert said very severe things against Barak but Barak did not respond. As for other things, I don't remember.

Why do you think that Olmert chose to express himself so sharply against his partners and rivals in the coalition? Will this not harm him if he wants to go back into politics in the future?

I don't have a clue why he did so. Someone who has been prime minister and finished his term of office should not go back to politics, in my opinion. After you have served in the most respected and lofty of positions, you should devote yourself to other matters.

At the time, the Basic Law was amended so that the prime minister would not be able to serve for more than two consecutive terms of office. The fact that people go back into politics does not do them very much good.

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