Olmert is not a brand

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 05-Apr-06 | Author: Uzi Benziman| Source: Ha'aretz

Israeli acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert(L) shakes hands with the leader Israel's Labour party Amir Peretz after their joint press conference in Jerusalem.

Members of the Adler and Arad group, strategic advisers to Ariel Sharon, blurted out whatever came into their heads in revealing interviews in last weekend's Yedioth Ahronoth magazine. According to this group, it did not provide PR services to the prime minister but rather shaped the political reality: It established Kadima, chose the party's candidates for the Knesset, thought up the idea of bringing Shimon Peres into the party, set the party's policies and formulated the messages its representatives would transmit to the public. By remote control, it also activated Ehud Olmert's responses to diplomatic and security incidents during the election campaign.

The spirit of the confessions of Kadima's ad-men spread throughout the entire political system, lulling party heads into a mistaken sense of their own omnipotence. At first they acted as if the showdown at the ballot box was not about critical moments in the life of the country. They behaved as if the voter was being called to take part in no more than an ego-contest among politicians. It was as if the politicians' stands and the pledges they made were nothing but gaming pieces that could be shuffled overnight from one political game board to another.

But when they realized that the public was not willing to take part in that circus, and that it took its voting seriously, the politicians backpedalled. The joint statement by Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz yesterday afternoon is a positive sign that they are sobering up.

Now that the leaders of Labor, Meretz, the Pensioners, United Torah Judaism and Shas are recommending Olmert as prime minister, and have stated their willingness to negotiate with him on a coalition partnership, let the lesson of the past few days be seared into their consciousness: Politics is not only a hunting ground for media advisers. It is the arena in which decisions of national importance are made. Parties are not necessarily only backdrops or PR creations, but rather frameworks that the democratic system puts in place to clarify the most salient issues society faces. And party leaders are not always marionettes that spinmeisters maneuver at will, but rather individuals obligated to their positions and the expectations they create among their supporters.

Therefore, when Shas and United Torah Judaism express their willingness to join an Olmert-led coalition, they must pledge to accept his political positions. When Amir Peretz and the Pensioners declare a partnership with the head of Kadima, they must come to terms with his socio-economic perspective. Olmert is not an unknown quantity. He has announced his intention to withdraw from major portions of the West Bank, and he has made clear that he will continue pursuing free-market economic policies (with adjustments). Anyone interested in joining him in directing affairs of state must accept his positions, with amendments arising from coalition negotiations.

It is unacceptable to start out in Olmert's coalition, as some have suggested, stay in it for a year or two, and bolt if and when the moment of truth comes to implement the convergence plan. That would be immoral, as well as politically disadvantageous for Olmert to give in to these game rules. He was elected to implement a clear policy and he must not betray his voters.

As opposed to Sharon, Olmert has no need of branding. He, unlike Sharon is neither of mythological proportions nor a demon. He is an ordinary politician; his shortcomings and strengths are known. At most, he needs media advisers to apply a little make-up, not a total make-over.

Therefore, his statements are to be taken at face value: He promised convergence and he will be judged by the extent to which he keeps his promise. His coalition partners would do well to remember this.