Analysis / Vague Sentences, Liberally Scattered

The new Olmert looks like someone who swallowed a Ritalin pill before sitting down to barrages of penetrating questions.

The first thing to catch the eye was the decor: The wall behind Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was mostly filled with Jewish books and, next to them, the Israeli flag. Someone tried - and to a great extent, succeeded - to create for the acting prime minister the appearance of a scholar, a national leader.

Only a violin in the background was missing. It would have gone with the understanding expression, semi-amused and semi-sleepy, that Olmert wore during his first television interview since becoming acting prime minister on January 4. The interview was aired on Channel 2 last night.

The new Olmert looks like someone who swallowed a Ritalin pill before sitting down to the barrage of penetrating questions that Nissim Mishal, the host of the Mishal Ham program, shot at him.

The interviewer made an effort to get a headline out of Olmert's responses, but the interviewee made no less of an effort to bore the viewers. Olmert devotedly stuck to the messages his advisers had prepared for him before the interview, declaring the same theme repeatedly: "I will work for the unity of the nation," "I am busy running the affairs of the State of Israel," "I am sorry about the feeling of alienation," "We are fighting terror." These were only some of the general, vague sentences Olmert liberally scattered throughout the interview.

It was through these types of sentiments that he pushed aside the matter of corruption, the issue of his ties to the Gavrieli family and the question of the continued evacuation of illegal outposts.

The clearest statement Olmert made related to the final borders of the State of Israel, which will be determined, he said, after the elections. Settlement blocs, a united Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion and Ariel are under Israeli control. And of course, the roadmap. Whoever wanted to believe him believed him.

Election-eve statements have a very limited value. It's enough to recall the interviews Ariel Sharon gave on the eve of the 2003 elections - interviews in which the sole accurate detail is the date of their publication. This interview, and additional interviews Olmert plans to give in the weeks remaining until the elections, are intended to remove him from the beneficent shadow of Sharon (whose name, by the way, was mentioned only a few times last night, and only toward the end of the interview). If it were up to Olmert, he would remain in Sharon's shadow until the elections, but that is not the way leadership is built.