Olmert Seeks to Avoid Leftist' Label Among Russian Speakers

In an interview with a Russian-language newspaper that appeared Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apparently tried to give a new slant to his proposal for a unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Under a headline in Russki-Israilnyanin claiming, "What Yedioth kept quiet and what Ehud Olmert really said," the minister did not deny what he said about a unilateral withdrawal, but tried to put a spin on it to avoid being depicted as a "leftist."

He said that, while the quotes in Yedioth Ahronoth were accurate, the headline in the weekend edition of the country's largest paper - "Olmert leaves the territories" - was a distortion.

A political consultant specializing in the Russian community said, "Olmert understands that Russian immigrants consider consistency very important, but even more important is not being caught as being a leftist." And it also doesn't hurt in the Russian immigrant community, said the consultant, "to depict oneself as a victim of distorted media reporting." Olmert, the consultant summed up, scored points in the interview on all counts.

But most of all, Olmert was aiming his remarks at the "right-wing but pragmatic" voters and a community "that is begining to show signs of impatience with the failure to find a political solution to the problem."

Olmert explained in the interview that his plan would leave holy sites such as Hebron in Israeli hands and involve very little withdrawal from settlements.

He blamed the Oslo process for the need to withdraw from the territories, and pointed out that even Benjamin Netanyahu "was forced to go down that path." Netanyahu lately has been polling very high in the Russian immigrant community.

Olmert is viewed as working hard to create a political power base in the Russian-speaking community, trying to forge a place between Netanyahu on the right and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. There is confusion in the community over what Sharon really wants.