Analysis: A 'disgraceful' leak?

A single word in Olmert's speech sent spin doctors running for explanations on Israel's diplomatic initiatives.

Olmert 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Knesset members brought out their English-language dictionaries Monday, as a single word in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech sent spin doctors running for explanations on Israel's diplomatic initiatives at home and abroad. "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 Kadima ministers ahead of Sunday's cabinet meeting. The quote, however, was granted to English-language wire services before it was given to the Israeli press, leaving Hebrew Web sites and radio to translate it, using bizayon, a much harsher adjective meaning contemptable. Kadima ministers, meanwhile, were surprised to hear the statement widely quoted, since none of the ministers could recall hearing the prime minister voice the sentiment during the meeting. Right-wing parties in Olmert's coalition, meanwhile, took the quote as evidence of the prime minister's intentions to evacuate the settlements in the West Bank in the wake of US President George W. Bush's visit to the region. "Olmert wanted Bush to hear the statement, so he had it leaked to the English press," said one senior Kadima official. "He could not have predicted the consequences." On Tuesday, Israel Beiteinu Leader Avigdor Lieberman is expected to decide his party's fate in the coalition. Lieberman has long threatened to leave the government over the ongoing peace negotiations. On Monday, MKs in his party said that Olmert's comments were the final straw. Olmert tried to reverse some of the damage during Monday's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, said Kadima MKs close to the prime minister. Uncharacteristically pointing out the flaws in the current peace process, Olmert said that Israel could not ignore the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip while discussing the future Palestinian state. The message, said one Likud committee member, was that the process would happen slowly and was not likely to be resolved in the near future. Olmert also threw veiled criticism of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's handling of Israeli-Egyptian relations, further suggesting to MKs that he was trying to distance himself from the current peace talks. "He is trying to present himself as a dove abroad and as a hawk at home. Unfortunately, we know both birds can't live within the same man. Olmert is just a chicken that can't stick to one policy," said one Israel Beiteinu MK.•