Spin Instead of an Agenda

One fine day, Olmert announced that his realignment plan was no longer on the agenda. With a few words, he erased the hope that he had breathed into large segments of the public and reneged on his promises.

This is what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on March 29, 2006, after the polls closed on Election Day: "We, and I as your leader, have the task of shaping the next chapter in the life of the State of Israel." And this is what was written in the basic guidelines of the 31st government, which was presented by Olmert to the Knesset on May 4, 2006: "The government of Israel will aspire to bring about the determination of the country's permanent borders." And this is what the prime minister said in his speech that day in the Knesset: "The State of Israel does not want to, and cannot, delay the decisions that are crucial to its future."

For half a year, the prime minister had a vision - or, in the annoying language that dominates the media, he had an agenda. By dint of the goal that he presented - the need to withdraw from most of the territories - he succeeded in keeping Kadima above water and making it the largest party in the Knesset, although its founder and leader, Ariel Sharon, had ceased to function. Thanks to the direction marked out by Olmert, hundreds of thousands of citizens followed him and gave him their votes.

And then, one fine day, Olmert announced that his realignment plan was no longer on the agenda. With a few words, he erased the hope that he had breathed into large segments of the public and reneged on his promises. And in order to leave no doubt about his present mood, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he told readers of Haaretz that "a prime minister has to run a country, he doesn't have to have an agenda." In other words, the captain who is holding the steering wheel of the state does not need a destination toward which to sail; it is enough if he knows how to stay afloat.

Whether Olmert's announcement that he is relinquishing his "agenda" is only tactical, or whether it reflects deep despair of his ability to realize his original goal, he has chosen, out of all the options available to him, to betray the Ten Commandments of his political philosophy. As opposed to most of the prime ministers who preceded him, Olmert signed a clear political promissory note: He promised to sever Israel from most of the territories, and he gave convincing reasons for his position (a desire to ensure the fulfillment of the Zionist idea over the long term). Unlike Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, who asked for the public's trust in the name of one political approach and found themselves forced to abandon it, Olmert presented a different, more decent public ideal: He declared his intentions and his path in advance, and in their name, he asked for the support of the voters. This difference formed the basis for a new relationship of trust between the prime minister and the citizens: They granted him a mandate to carry out his political plan, in the knowledge that the Knesset had been elected on the basis of an open declaration of intent that would determine the balance of power between the coalition and the opposition.

Less than half a year later, Olmert is turning his festive commitment into dust. "A prime minister does not have to wake up every morning with an agenda," he told Haaretz reporters Aluf Benn and Yossi Verter. "A prime minister has to run a country and do it in a manner that guarantees its important interests." What Olmert says is true: He is not required to wake up every morning with a new political plan. But why does he not continue to adhere to the same policy that he adopted only a few months ago?

The realignment plan was removed from the national agenda without a genuine discussion and without the prime minister offering a convincing explanation. The basic factor that gave rise to it - the bloody and destructive conflict with the Palestinians - remains in place. The public is behaving irresponsibly, or with apathy, when it does not demand an accounting from Olmert for changing his political religion. Without a vision, the nation will become unruly. And a prime minister who does not understand that will find himself becoming entangled, with his own mouth, in creating spin about secret contacts with Saudi Arabia - which he then has to retract, with his own mouth, 24 hours later.