Even if nothing else comes out of George W. Bush's visit - and we'd be surprised if it did - at least it gave us some good quotes. During his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where he was obviously genuinely moved, he is quoted as saying that the US should have bombed Auschwitz.
That was more to the point than what he said when the presidential nose was pushed deep into Israeli politics and then sneezed. The "Take care of Olmert, so he will stay in power," quote had a short shelf life. Within less than a week, Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman had quit the government and called for early elections. This led one wag to note Olmert's problem is not the "core issues" - sugiot liba, in Hebrew - but the "Lieberman issues," which are basically the same: borders, the status and size of Jerusalem and the refugee question.
"He's a strong leader," added Bush of Olmert, in a comment which had Israelis of all political stripes wondering whether they should add an exclamation mark or a question mark. Maybe best to wait until after the publication of the Winograd Committee report into the Second Lebanon War at the end of the month.
Less confusing was the observation: "Israeli politics is like karate ... you never know when the next chop will come."
Bush and Olmert obviously enjoyed each other's company. And why not? They are two men in a similar situation, with Bush's popularity so low his visit to the Holy Land was all but overlooked as the US focused on election-related events in New Hampshire. In fact, when the Israeli capital virtually came to a halt for the presidential jaunt, he wasn't so popular over here either. One Jerusalemite bus passenger quipped that she'd heard the whole point of his trip was to enable Bush to buy dollars.
But there was serious business to discuss: hence the reiteration of Bush's belief that Israel and the Palestinians can reach an agreement "within a year."
He might not want to be quoted on that, either, by the time you are reading this. As Kassams continued to rain down on the Negev both during the visit and afterwards - resulting in the death of kibbutz volunteer Carlos AndrÃ©s Muscara ChÃ¡vez on January 15 - the IDF was forced to take action in Gaza. (It could be noted that this is more than the PA is able to do at the moment.)
Under the circumstances, the quote sounded dated before it had even been typed into the computers of the reporters covering the non-event. Arguably, you could reach a peace agreement within a month - but only if you didn't expect it to last longer than the next 30 days.
MY FAVORITE quote came from neither Bush nor Olmert but from the prime minister's spokesman, who told reporters that Israel and the US are "on the same page" regarding the gravity of the Iranian nuclear threat and their commitment to thwart it.
It struck me that they might be on the same page but there is no guarantee that they are reading the same book, or the same edition, or in the same language.
If so, Bush read into the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear policy something that its authors probably did not intend when they wrote that Teheran had shelved its nuclear weapons program.
Israeli intelligence estimates are strikingly different, as it were. What's the use of a book without pictures or conversation, asked Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The pictures Israeli experts have been seeing were certainly not reflected in the NIE report, which arguably will be around longer to influence US policy than Bush himself.
Wherever they burn books, they will also in the end burn human beings, said Heinrich Heine. Not only are they burning books in Iran and the Hamas-controlled Gaza, the books they are burning are Western i.e: written in English.
I don't want to judge a book by its cover, but the burning of US flags and literature ahead of Bush's arrival in the region didn't seem aimed at offering a warm welcome.
The Palestinians and their allies in Iran and elsewhere have read Bush and Olmert like an open you-know-what and see no reason to turn over a new leaf.
I doubt Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going as far as to celebrate the departure of Avigdor Lieberman, who was nominally the minister in charge of strategic affairs. He is too busy with his own strategic affairs, which seem to be Plan B: Continuing the nuclear weapons program under the guise of a civil project.
OLMERT TOLD the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on January 14: "Regarding the threat of a nuclear Iran, all options are on the table." But I'm not sure that had Ahmadinejad quaking with fear either. Certainly, Bush's comments on Iran during his visit could be interpreted to mean that although the US doesn't intend to take action, it will allow Israel to operate. Olmert's behavior, however, at the moment seems to be bravado.
"The fact that the illegal outposts are still standing despite a decision to remove them by two governments is a 'disgrace,'" a senior government official quoted Olmert as telling his Kadima faction ministers ahead of January 13's cabinet meeting. Spoken like a true leader of the opposition. Olmert seemed to have forgotten that not only is his party in power - he's still the head of it (much to the obvious chagrin of, say, ministers Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz among others.) If he really wants to get rid of the illegal outposts, he should try giving the order. It's another quote which might not make it into Olmert's memoirs should he be tempted to write them and enter the pages of history.
Whatever page Olmert is on, The Good Book it ain't. He seems to be content with escapist literature with a catchy title and a few good throwaway lines.
Is there any chance of a happy ending?
The worst-case scenario is perhaps summed up in the choice described by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, who once noted the difference between a Chekhovian tragedy and a Shakespearean one.
"In the conclusion of the tragedy by Chekhov, everyone is disappointed, disillusioned, embittered, heartbroken, but alive," said Oz. In Shakespeare's tradition, a tragedy ends with the stage strewn with dead bodies.
Me, I prefer light reading. It helps me sleep at night to be able to laugh at something genuinely funny, not the pronouncements of politicians.
Anyway, by this time next year, Bush will have plenty of time to read and the pages Olmert (and his political foes) are most interested in at the moment are those of the Winograd Report.