What is Ehud Olmert doing?
In the midst of his corruption trial and in the middle of high-profile peace talks, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has pushed himself back into the political limelight. In the past week, the disgraced former prime minister has created three news stories that pose the question, what exactly he is trying to accomplish? One possibility is that Olmert is desperately trying to divert attention from his corruption trial, which has been making headlines in the past few weeks. Another is that he is acting as a proxy for his successor, opposition leader Tzipi Livni. The third possibility is that he is simply looking for publicity, either to build hype for his upcoming memoirs or just out of a narcissistic nostalgia for seeing himself in the newspapers.
Olmert’s sudden re-appearance on the political stage started a few days ago when he said at a Geneva Initiative event that the Bush administration had agreed to take 100,000 Palestinian refugees as part of a peace deal. Immediately denied by senior Bush administration official Elliot Abrams, one must wonder what motivated Olmert to make such a statement at a time when the current peace talks seem to be teetering on the edge of failure. Is he trying to become a voice of the opposition in a time when the only opposition to the talks is coming from within Netanyahu’s coalition?
Two days later, Olmert moved onto his next target, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. In excerpts from his memoirs leaked to Yedioth Ahronot, Olmert alleged that Barak – during last year’s Gaza War, Operation Cast Lead – held meetings with high ranking foreign diplomats behind the prime minister’s back in order to try and reach a cease fire. This is perhaps the most puzzling of the former prime minister’s public moves this week. Is this merely a juvenile attempt to damage Barak’s public standing in the usual modus operandi of Israeli politics? Perhaps leaking excerpts of his memoirs was only intended to sell more copies of his book, but this is even stranger when considering that Barak sits on the committee that will ultimately decide what can be published in Olmert’s book.
Most recently, Olmert published an Op-Ed in the ‘Jerusalem Post’ discussing the West Bank building moratorium’s triviality in the current peace talks. This was by far the most reasonable public statement in the former prime minister’s media adventures this week. In an honest analysis of the current situation, Olmert reminded us that the building moratorium is completely irrelevant to the outcome of the talks; if there is to be a two-state solution, it is a given that there will be no more Jewish construction in the West Bank. This Op-Ed was different from the two previous public statements in that it dealt with current events and did not highlight anything likely be in his memoirs. Although he did list the five issues central to any agreement, all of the points were well established long before he was prime minister. The only explanation for the Op-Ed is that he wants to remain politically relevant.
So what is behind Olmert’s deliberate and sustained effort to inject himself back into the political eye? There is little doubt that he is at least partially motivated to build hype around his memoirs, but considering that the book is not likely to be published anytime soon, this is not your typical behavior for promoting a book (unless you are Dick Cheney). Similarly unlikely, is that he is trying to affect political realities. He is in the middle of a corruption trial and therefore it is unlikely that he thinks there is a chance to re-enter politics at the moment, or that anyone with a semblance of political strategy would use him as a proxy. Is the man is an egomaniac who can no longer stand to be outside of public discourse? This type of extended adventure in the public eye could very easily be a diversionary tactic from his trial, but what exactly is Olmert trying to accomplish? Maybe we’ll find out. At this point, only one man knows.