Floating Voter / Only Time Will Tell

I have been racking my brain looking for a way to define Ehud Olmert that would differentiate him from his predecessors. A definition that is his alone, valid for him only.

I racked, and still the definition eluded me. All the firsts have already been taken: We've already had our first sabra [Israeli-born] prime minister, and many other firsts. In a country that is almost 60 years old, primacy is impossible. The founders are long gone, and even the generation of 1948 is disappearing with the departure of Ariel Sharon from the political arena. The baton of the relay race will move now from hand to hand, from generation to generation, with the front runners having finished their role a long time ago. From now on we will get run-of-the-mill conveyor-belt prime ministers, more or less. Ehud Olmert and I came into the Knesset together in 1974 after the Yom Kippur War. He was the youngest in his party and I in mine. For too many years we remained "the youngest" and those who begin so young sometimes find it difficult to grow up. Olmert succeeded; now he is the oldest of the young members of the Knesset.

We made a pact to fight organized crime and clean out the stables of the soccer scene, he as a Betar fan and I of Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, and both of us as lovers of British soccer. We were also both the stars of the Knesset soccer team, he as a whirlwind forward and I as a goalie. He would kick the goals, I would save them. And perhaps there is in all of this something symbolic and even a portend.

There is no doubt that the two black sheep, in Likud and Labor, changed the rules of the game in the Knesset, which until they came had been a kind of House of Lords. The old-timers in the House did not know exactly how to take these wild wunderkinder. Mainly, they tried to train us. Have we been trained?

We were and still are friendly. It is doubtful we would ever have been friends and certainly not ideological partners. The things I saw from there and since then, he did not see from there and since then. Now Ehud is here - and absolutely in the thick of things - while I am out the picture.

There was no friendship between us, and not only because of our polar political stands. We each had our own perception of the part we were to play in the long-distance relay race. Ehud enjoyed things I did not, and vice-versa.

Now I am asked as to my assessment of how he would function as prime minister. The truth is, I have no idea, and I must resort to a cliche I hate: Only time will tell. And how can one know? Five years ago, before Ariel Sharon was elected the first time, only a few people wanted him as prime minister or believed he would be elected. He was the abandoned head of a rejected opposition. Then came the intifada and Ehud Barak. Sharon was elected, and many followed him.

And again, how can one know? When Golda Meir was elected, few supported her, and she was eventually to become a very popular premier. She was like everyone's grandmother, as Sharon was like everyone's grandfather. One thing is certain: Ehud Olmert will not be perceived as anyone's grandmother or grandfather.

Ehud is a smart guy, sly, ambitious, untiring in reaching the goals he sets himself, experienced and practical. Ostensibly he has what it takes to be prime minister, but will it be enough? He doesn't even have a hundred days of grace, but rather only 78, to tell.