Analysis: Conducting diplomacy under the cloud of investigation

While Sarkozy was looking for the press, Olmert was trying to avoid it.

olmert sarkozy abbas hug (photo credit: AP)
olmert sarkozy abbas hug
(photo credit: AP)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy looked like a giddy schoolboy as he held Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's hand in one of his own, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's hand in the other, after the three issued statements to the press on Sunday in a gilded room in the Elysee Palace. This was Sarkozy's moment - the French president had organized a meeting of 45 of the world's leaders for his new Mediterranean Union, and was now front and center as one of the world's peacemakers. It was obvious that Sarkozy, flanked by Olmert and Abbas, was relishing the moment, and didn't want to let it go. So, following the statements, he did something neither Olmert nor Abbas did. He waded into the arms of waiting journalists and briefed them on the morning's events. Olmert, by contrast, seemed to be avoiding journalists. Though it has become somewhat of a tradition for Israeli prime ministers, when they go abroad, to brief the traveling press, no such briefing was on Olmert's two-day schedule in Paris. On the way from Tel Aviv to Paris late Saturday night, Olmert greeted reporters with a brief tw- minute statement, in which he took the police to task for leaking details of his investigation. While Sarkozy was looking for the microphones and the glare of the camera, Olmert was trying to avoid it - at least the Israeli cameras and microphones. There was something bewildering about the prime minister saying on Sunday alongside Sarkozy and Abbas that the moment of truth with the Palestinians was at hand, and that both Israel and the Palestinians would have to make difficult and painful decisions. "We have never been so close to an agreement as now," he said. As if Olmert - his position weakened badly as a result of the latest investigation - would be in any position to make those painful and critical decisions. One Israeli diplomatic official said that the Arab world was bewildered by the brouhaha over Olmert's corruption charges. "The leaders in the Arab world have so many humps on their back, they can't imagine why we are making so much noise over just one on Olmert's back," the official said. The official added, however,that there was an understanding in the Arab world of the depth of Olmert's problems, and that there was an interest in coming to some kind of agreement with him now on the Palestinian issue in order to obligate any government that comes after. According to the official, there was an interest in getting a "deposit" from Olmert now, along the liens of the famous "deposit" then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin gave at the time to US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in 1993 regarding an Israeli willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. "They want something in their pocket before Olmert leaves office," the official said. One Italian diplomat, when asked about how Olmert's political problems impacted on his country's Middle East policies, said that while Olmert's problems interested the Italian media, for the Italian government "they really did not matter. "He is the only address we have," the official said. "He still represents Israel. We will continue to work with him, what else do we have?" An Algerian journalist covering the gathering, Hassan Moali from the El Watan newspaper, said that Olmert's problems did not interest the Algerians. "We don't care about the corruption," he said. "But it does seem that anyone in Israel who wants to make peace will be driven from office."