Farewell to a Chance Prime Minister

If Livni does not have a last-minute change of heart, Likud and the extreme right will come to power.

I come not to eulogize Ehud Olmert as his term of office runs out, but to praise him. Not because he is an honest man, but because he possessed the talent to pretend he was the successor to Ariel Sharon, the leader who coined the slogan "it's time to snap out of the Greater Israel dream." Moreover, Olmert often claimed he held the copyright to the slogan. I hereby praise him for the chance event by which he entered Sharon's shoes and because of which he could pretend to continue on his path. True, Sharon not only talked but also did things. He removed 25 settlements, the champion of the settlements, and if he had remained with us, he would have probably continued to do so, despite Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Olmert himself did not remove one settlement.

Olmert is a man of honor, because the Kadima government functioned as though Olmert were continuing what Sharon had started. He ostensibly reinforced the peace process with dinners at his place or theirs, and he assigned Tzipi Livni the task of conducting negotiations in the crafty knowledge - the suspicion arises - that peace would not break out and she would lose face. He began the secret peace talks with Syria through Turkish mediation and authorized the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Syria. The two events were kept secret because a responsible leader like him does not make a habit - unlike Amos Gilad - of leaking secrets to columnists in the weekend papers. And if secrets like that nevertheless get big headlines, a responsible leader like him would never declare war on freedom of the press. Olmert, a chance prime minister in the wake of the "deputy prime minister" title that was bestowed on him as compensation for not being appointed finance minister, is not a politician devoid of talents. On the contrary, he is a veteran political animal under whom the government was managed reasonably well, both in the economic realm and in international relations. He has the skill to project friendship with backslapping. And as a tall fellow, he can even wrap an embracing arm around the shoulder of his interlocutor - President Bush, for example - without spraining his own shoulder.

True, Olmert talked a lot about the principle of two states for two peoples, but he lacked the leadership quality that Sharon commanded: to talk less and do more. As the offspring of a Revisionist family, he pursued the path of Jabotinsky, who in large measure espoused the view that talk is the equivalent of action.

Olmert is a wily old fox and a sophisticated politician. But covetousness, a lack of self-restraint, an inability to take criticism and admit mistakes, and the thirst for revenge all work against him. Indeed, what drove him to develop such a deep resentment of Livni? It was because she urged him to resign after the Second Lebanon War. His reaction - "you resign" - was cantankerous and childish.

His appointment of Daniel Friedmann as justice minister, for example, after the suspicions against him were made public, was perceived as a declaration of war on the rule of law in Israel and an attempt to undermine the Supreme Court's foundations. Not that there is nothing to rectify in this sphere, but to choose as justice minister someone who has this as his personal agenda is dangerous and unacceptable. In the United States, for example, there are people who do not vote for president until they know whom he plans to appoint to the Supreme Court.

Despite the impression Olmert creates of being hip and buddy-buddy, he is not a leader in Sharon's image. His behavior as prime minister showed a great deal of insensitivity and rashness. He is the only prime minister who initiated two wars during his term of office, which did not end well. The decision to launch the Second Lebanon War, whose mission was to bring back the two abducted soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, was made frivolously. First, because the condition of the vehicle and the amount of blood at the scene made it very probable that they were no longer alive. And second, because the Israel Defense Forces was unprepared and the home front too exposed to launch this unnecessary war, which took 160 lives. As a result of the war, we now have in the north a stronger and better armed Hezbollah, but cautious enough to act only when prodded by Iran. Operation Cast Lead, which was guided not by the civilian Amir Peretz but by a military genius, was halted prematurely and without firm conclusions.

The disproportionate bombing of densely populated areas generated a wave of anti-Semitic demonstrations and calls to put Israel on trial for crimes against humanity. Such allegations were never before leveled against us in the many defensive wars Israel has fought.

If Livni does not have a last-minute change of heart, Likud and the extreme right will come to power. In the meantime, the chance prime minister, who is waiting for Talansky's second round of testimonies and who after 15 police interrogations is going to have a hearing before the state prosecution, has not kicked the covetousness habit and is asking to have the office allotted to retired prime ministers enlarged by 30 meters. That will be easier to accomplish than his promise to liberate Gilad Shalit before his term of office ends.