Is Olmert up to the job?

Americans wonder whether acting prime minister can take risks on road to peace; Olmert praised for command of English Yitzhak Benhorin WASHINGTON – In wake of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s deteriorating health condition and the possibility he may not be able to reassume his post as Israel’s leader, the American public is starting to show interest in the PM’s replacement, Ehud Olmert. Initial reports concerning Olmert have appeared in the American press Saturday, depicting him as a skilled and experienced politician, as well a sophisticated, fluent English speaker. However, the same reports also wondered whether Olmert was capable of taking over after Sharon is out of the picture. „Olmert steps out of Sharon’s shadow, into the fire,” a headline in The New York Times read Saturday. The report referred to Olmert as the first right-wing politician to advocate the withdrawal from Gaza, two years ago, and stated that as acting prime minister he will have an opportunity to leave his mark on the peace process ahead of a future two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the past, Olmert also said significant withdrawals in the West Bank are necessary, the newspaper added However, according to The New York Times, the ambitious and often daring Olmert has never won the widespread sympathy bestowed on Sharon. He also lacks the military record of a witty strategist, and some Israeli political analysts believe he will fail to enlist enough support to allow him to take the risks Sharon was able to take, the Times claimed. While questioning Olmert’s political capital, the Times also made note of the acting prime minister’s high parliamentary skills and experience, and his „elegant” and polished English, which – according to the paper – will enable him to easily connect with the American public. Meanwhile, in a profile of „the man who would succeed Sharon” in Time magazine’s online edition, Olmert was portrayed as „not a particularly popular figure in Israel,” and again as a leader lacking Sharon’s military and security background. ‘Sharp sense of humor’ The Washington Times on its part also featured an Olmert profile Saturday, writing that since the acting prime minister in neither liked nor disliked by the Israeli public, he will now have a chance to persuade voters they should support him. Arianna Huffington, one of America’s most well-known columnists, chose to lavish praise on the acting prime minister. Huffington, who met with Olmert in June of this year at the house of actor Richard Gere, and who later listened to his speech at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, wrote she would have been glad had the politicians in the White House rose to Olmert’s level. According to Huffington, Olmert is a true believer in Israel’s need to withdraw from the occupied territories, out of conviction this is the only way for a true and lasting peace. Olmert is a brilliant and enthusiastic speaker, with a sharp sense of humor, Huffington wrote, adding that while making the speech Olmert did not once need to look at the notes before of him. Huffington wrote she believes that the pragmatic and experienced Olmert is the right man at this point in Israel’s history. He is fearless, pragmatic and willing to jeopardize his political future in order to do the right thing for his country, Huffington concluded.