When He Said Good-bye, What Did He Mean?

The more his status eroded, the more Olmert increased his demonstrations of aggressiveness, the frequency of his trips and the force of his speeches.

If there are moments when deja vu and a vision of the future strangely merge, we experienced them two days ago in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's pre-resignation/post-conclusions speech. We have heard similar speeches, in both style and content, in the past, in which he declared that he would fight to prove his innocence. And we will still be hearing similar speeches, in which he will point out his achievements, in the future. And everyone praised this speech, just as they praised its predecessors, and will probably praise those to come. And rightly so.

Indeed, one of Olmert's clear achievements as prime minister is the fact that he has turned out to be one of the most eloquent leaders we have ever had. This angry and bitter politician, who for years we became accustomed to seeing playing verbal squash with television interviewers, spraying sparks of sarcasm and never being left without a retort, underwent a slight change, probably temporary, when by chance he became prime minister. During his two and a half years in office, he has delivered the most important, focused and courageous speeches ever heard from an Israeli prime minister. As opposed to many of his predecessors, he did not wait until his term was in its death throes to point out what is important and distinguish it from the secondary with regard to the territories, borders and the need for a peace agreement. When he spoke, he gave Israeli "dream speeches" of the kind for which we had hoped for years, both in style and in substance.

Yet one question must be asked: Was it only fine words, which would turn his entire term in office into the deceptive palaver that his rivals would like to portray it as, or were these serious statements of intention that were not fulfilled, or were even deliberately torpedoed - which would color this term of missed opportunity in somewhat tragic hues (and which Israeli prime minister's term is not a missed opportunity, in its own way?). In other words: Has Olmert, just as he somehow managed for years to emerge unscathed from endless investigators and investigations, also managed to deceive the few who still believed that in spite of all his shortcomings, and perhaps because of them (for example, brazenness), he could bring change and hope?

Even now, there is no answer to that question, because strangely, that same "effective" rhetoric has succeeded in remaining suspended in the air without making genuine contact with reality. One could say that Olmert's entire term was conducted through speeches: from the impressive swearing-in speech, with its promise of "a country that's fun to live in," to Hassan Nasrallah's inflammatory speech after Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers, which made Olmert blow his fuse and led him to embark on a war, accompanied by a belligerent speech of his own (which won enthusiastic support almost across the board in the Knesset). Or from all his speeches of peace and hope with regard to the Palestinians and the Syrians through the speeches rejecting the accusations against him - at the end of which, he believes, that redeeming defense speech that will, in one shot, cleanse him of all the investigations, accusations and sins still awaits.

But speeches that influence nobody are like a tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear. And in the future, we will most likely study and teach the unprecedented collapse of public confidence in Olmert, which cannot be explained only by the Israel Defense Forces' failures in Lebanon, or only by the revelations of hedonism and the suspicions of corruption (which he shares, though to a lesser degree, with almost all the most popular politicians). Has the public, with some supersensitive intuition, succeeded in identifying in Olmert that trait that writer David Grossman called "hollow"? Some type of unique emptiness - exceeding even that of other politicians - that lies behind all the words and gestures? Or perhaps the anti-Olmert hysteria is part of the same spirit of hatred, belligerence and strife that Olmert himself expressed over the years, and now it is all coming back to him, with compound interest on all the free gifts - a kind of "bad karma"?

Recently, the more his status eroded, the more Olmert increased his demonstrations of aggressiveness, the frequency of his trips and the force of his speeches - which could be touching, or could arouse suspicion that everything was "only words" in the first place. And as usual, this prime minister, too, has no time left to disprove the suspicions and to prove himself with great deeds. Only in hindsight, when there is no more Olmert to kick around (but rather someone else to kick around), will it perhaps turn out once again that some of that mystical "bad karma" was nothing but his declared willingness to give up the territories - a willingness whose result in Israel is well known.