Analysis: Olmert's best chance for survival rests with Abbas

Only the PA chairman stands between the PM and a diplomatic move that could save his career.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 17, 2007 23:29
2 minute read.
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If there is one man who stands in the way of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resurrecting his political fortunes, it is not opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who sparred with him last week, or coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki and Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, who criticized him over the weekend. It's not even Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose expected political downfall at the end of May cannot come fast enough for the prime minister. It's Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whose recent behavior is standing between Olmert and a long-coveted diplomatic agenda for his premiership and his Kadima Party. A political analyst said over the weekend that Olmert's premiership was the opposite of that of his predecessor, former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon had an agenda and public support but lacked the parliamentary backing to implement it without difficult political struggles. Olmert lacks an agenda and public support, but he has greater parliamentary backing than any prime minister in a very long time. Contrary to the public perception that Olmert is a week prime minister who cannot get away with implementing any serious diplomatic move, he could in fact advance a far-reaching diplomatic agenda, and it would only help him politically. Just like the Gaza Strip withdrawal helped extend Sharon's tenure, if Olmert suddenly became the champion of a fast-moving diplomatic process, he could change overnight from the lame duck that he is perceived to be to a leader of a historical move with momentum on his side. Kadima sources said last week that a major diplomatic advance would spark newfound energy in the party's left flank and perhaps rally the left-leaning press and legal establishment around the troubled prime minister. Olmert's coalition numbers 78 MKs and coalition talks with the six-MK United Torah Judaism restarted last week. Out of those 84 MKs, the only politicians that would have a problem with Olmert making concessions to the Palestinians are Israel Beiteinu MKs and MKs in Kadima who hope to return to the Likud. It is unlikely that any Kadima MK would be brave enough to challenge such steps unless his next political home was already guaranteed. Neither Sheetrit nor Yitzhaki could say that. And even Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who would be welcomed back to the Likud with open arms and a guaranteed slot, does not have enough of a political backbone to rock the boat. That leaves Israel Beiteinu and its leader, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He lost many of his supporters in October when he took a strategic gamble by joining the government. He has a long-term interest in leaving the government at an opportune moment. But that moment is still far off after only four months in the cabinet, and Olmert's coalition can go on without him. Only Abbas stands between Olmert and the kind of diplomatic moves that could help save his political career. But by signing an agreement with Hamas in Mecca, Abbas may have decided to save his own career instead. However, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has proven to be resourceful and creative in the past. If anyone can find the necessary words and actions to get the peace process back on track, it is her. She knows that Olmert's career depends on it.


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