The Metamorphosis of Ehud Olmert

In the early 1990s, Ehud Olmert was the quintessential supporter of hard-line Likud politics.

David Bedein

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credit David Michael Cohen
In the early 1990s, Ehud Olmert was the quintessential supporter of hard-line Likud politics.

In 1990, when he was the Minister of Health, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir trotted him out at every possible occasion to defend the Likud and to join forces in standing up to American pressure to conduct unilateral withdrawals. During the debate on the Oslo agreements in the Knesset in 1993, while he was also serving in his first term as the mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert became one of the most articulate orators against the accords with the PLO.

In October 1994, when President Bill Clinton came to Jerusalem, Olmert caused an international incident when he insisted that he accompany Clinton to the Old City of Jerusalem, even though the USA did not recognize Israel's sovereignty there. Olmert stood firm and Clinton had to cancel that visit.

Later on, with the advent of the second Intifada, Olmert supported a hard line of military action against the PLO, and wrote a seminal piece against any appeasement of terror, which was published in the Wall Street Journal on June 2nd, 2002. In that article, Olmert called on the government of Israel to stand up to the American mediators who were trying to force negotiations with the PLO. Olmert went so far as to demand that Israel kill off Yasser Arafat and Muhammad Dahlan.

Less than four years later, a new Ehud Olmert has taken the reigns of power in Israel.

The change in Olmert began to surface shortly before he left his position of mayor of Jerusalem in late 2002, when he was running again for the Knesset. At the time, it was discovered that the Palestinian Authority schoolbooks - containing a curriculum that inculcates Palestinian schoolchildren with the conviction that Israel has no right to exist (see - had been incorporated into the Jerusalem municipal school system.

I asked Olmert about it at a small press conference for the foreign media. His comment: "They can teach what they want, and we will teach what we want." He raised no objection to anti-Semitic teaching in the sovereign school system of the state of Israel.

Assuming a key leadership position under Ariel Sharon in Sharon's second term of office, in March 2003, Olmert became a passionate supporter of the American-sponsored "Road Map" and of Sharon's plan for unilateral withdrawal from Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations last February, Olmert explained his sudden support for Sharon's plan as based on what he learned from Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. Pounding his fist on the podium, Olmert declared that there had been no attacks from Lebanon since Israel pulled its troops out of Lebanon.

As a father of a young combat soldier who was on active duty on Israel's northern border between 2001 and 2004, Olmert's statement surprised me. There were times when my son reported three to five attacks a day on the northern frontier.

I dispatched my assistant to show Olmert the IDF reports, which documented hundreds of attacks from Lebanon since Israel's withdrawal, with 28 people killed as a result of these attacks. Olmert brushed aside the report and repeated his statement that there had been no attacks from the northern border since Israel's withdrawal.

Either Olmert doesn't make shiv'a calls or he assumes that no one knows that Israel has been under constant attack since its pullout from Lebanon.

In terms of Olmert's negotiations with the PA, he has been seen meeting with almost every level of the Palestinian Authority, from Mahmoud Abbas to Muhammad Dahlan, acting in the friendliest of manner.

Olmert has not answered questions about the Wall Street Journal article in which he called on the government of Israel to kill off the leadership of the PLO, including Dahlan, whom he then described as a "master terrorist". When I ran into Olmert in the Knesset last year, I asked him if his position on Dahlan is the same as it was when he wrote the article in the Journal. He responded affirmatively and walked on.

This week, Olmert authorized the PA to conduct elections in Jerusalem, and authorized members of the Fatah organization to campaign in Jerusalem, even though the Fatah is defined by Israeli law as an "illegal terrorist organization". And even though Hamas is running in the PA elections, Olmert is allowing these elections to take place in the capital.

One of the leaders of the Likud, Member of Knesset Gideon Saar, spoke on Voice of Israel radio on January 10th and questioned Olmert's judgment, saying, "Olmert's decision to allow the PA to conduct elections in Jerusalem would weaken Israel's claim for sovereignty in Jerusalem and weaken Israel's stance against the legalization of Hamas in other nations."

Olmert does not answer anyone as to why he has made his metamorphosis.

Now, he is running the state of Israel as the caretaker prime minister at the head of Kadima, a political party whose members are from Labor and Likud, but all of whom supported the unilateral withdrawal policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. No one knows whether the support for Kadima will fade after Sharon's passing, nor if Olmert will inherit the support that Sharon had until his most recent stroke.