Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Is he good or bad?

Most ministers believe Prime Minister Olmert is doing a good job; but what about public? Let there be no confusion about it: Despite the dramatic leadership-like display by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and despite the talks about a battle of inheritance reaching its climax these days, these are not Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's worst days.

Neither Mofaz, Avi Dichter, Tzipi Livni nor Meir Sheetrit – only Ehud Olmert – is on stage right now. The spotlights are all directed at him.

If we let go of the ax and noose for a moment and attempt to examine Olmert based on what he and his government are doing, we may discover some odd and confusing facts; facts that don't quite match the conception that guides the steps of the political system and media.

For example, we will discover that most ministers, with the exception of those with uncontrollable aspirations to jump too high, think Olmert is a good prime minister. Ask Yuli Tamir and the rest of her Labor party colleagues. Ask the Shas ministers. Ask Ahmad Tibi even, a sworn opposition figure, who thinks Olmert's only mistake was the war. Aside from that, he's a good prime minister.

Olmert's people are racking their brains these days: What should we do, how should we act, and how do we replace the war prism through which he is examined by the public and media?

The economy is flourishing, the growth rate is surprising, the standard of living is rising, the government is stable, ministers are working, vital budgets have been boosted, the army is clearing the rust that had gathered during the Sharon-Mofaz era, the diplomatic arena is teeming with activity – and nothing! All of this shatters in the face of any small mention of that cursed war, which caused Olmert to fall to his current public status.

Everyone wanted a civilian prime minister and demanded a normal agenda with solutions for social problems, yet when somebody comes along and delivers the goods – nobody pays attention.

'Olmert an island of sanity'
Haim Ramon, who is among those most closely associated with Olmert, is convinced the prime minister is on his way up: "I think the darkest part of the night is behind us," he says. "We can move on. We're past the peak of the crisis. The news about Kadima's demise was premature." Yet the deputy prime minister is aware of his boss' serious marketing problems.

Minister Ramon, who among other things is in charge of the ties between the leader and his party, plans ideological discussions in the framework of the Kadima committee, as well as a membership drive that will end with 50,000-60,000 members ("just like the Labor party's hard core")

Elections are still far off, Ramon stresses. "If three or four months ago everyone was engaged in a countdown of the prime minister's term in office, today the work assumption in the political system is that elections will take place at the end of 2008 at the earliest, and if you ask me – not before the beginning of 2009. The system believes Olmert will overcome the final Winograd report. With the exception of Bibi, nobody has an interest in dismantling the package. Not even Barak, who needs time and only has something to lose at this time."

As to Netanyahu, Ramon turns out to be an enthusiastic supporter for tightening the ties between the Likud leader and Olmert. "I would be glad if Likud joined the government," he said. "In my view, the most important thing is stability."

And if we assume Likud does join, will Kadima be willing to pay the political price? "The national interest is more important than narrow political interests," Ramon says. "The question of what to give in exchange is always difficult, and it's always a problem. But if we could bring Bibi in as finance minister, that would be the right thing to do."

Ramon is not overly excited by reports about a primaries fever that seemingly took over Kadima in recent months. "Political people do politics – it's natural, but it's nothing. Political correspondents can rest easy. There are no inheritance wars. They're trying to create them so there's something to write about. "

"The investment in the primaries is natural, and it just proves that everyone wants to stay in Kadima," he says. "If they thought Kadima is not an option, they wouldn't invest in it. The large change in recent months is that the entire party's top leadership sees itself staying in Kadima."

In any case, Ramon expects the media and public to open their eyes and see reality the way it is. "After they said everything is bad, come and judge Olmert now based on what he's doing, in every area."

Ramon himself has no doubt: Within all the Israeli madness, Olmert is an island of sanity. True, he has weaknesses, but he's sane. Whoever comes into contact with Olmert realizes he's dealing with a good prime minister, says Ramon.

Comment: Of course the ministers support Olmert-they are more concerned about their jobs, the perks, the power than what is best for Israel. They know that in the next government all of this goes away-it is up to the people to bring down this corrupt government.

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