Olmert 'comforted by Blair, Berlusconi'

Says "they were accused in similar ways," praises Avram Grant's "coolness," ability to face pressure.

olmert 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In an interview with the London-based Times published on Wednesday Prime Minister Olmert, who is under investigation for charges of corruption, said he was comforted by the thought of his "[friends] Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi [who] were in a similar situation. They were accused in similar ways, one of trading contributions for titles and one for trying to bribe a judge. They were cleared entirely and didn't stop taking care of the State." Olmert dismissed the personal effects of enduring the stress of his current position by saying, "you know when you get into this job that you're not going to have fun - you're going to have tough months and difficult years." When asked about Blair's recent efforts to encourage economic development among the Palestinians, Olmert commented that "[Blair] really invested himself in this effort to try and build up an infrastructure for the Palestinians." "I don't know how rapidly the Palestinians will be prepared to meet this challenge. But I think that his general approach is positive," he said. Olmert was also asked about his connection to the coach of the London-based Chelsea soccer club, Avram Grant. "I speak to him quite often; I'm very impressed by his coolness and his ability to face the pressure that comes with the job," Olmert replied. "We compare notes sometimes: how it is to deal with these issues, as prime minister; how it is to deal with the pressure when a head coach [has] 50,000 fans who are expressing their opinion momentarily, without waiting, just as it happens, and you are just by yourself." When questioned regarding the possibility of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stepping down if no peace agreement is reached, he responded that "I prefer not to think about it in these terms. I hope he will not step down and I hope that in six months we will be in a different place altogether." "I still think that the basic distance between what I and [Mr. Abbas] exchanged at the very initial stage was bridgeable." Further commenting on the issue of Palestinian leadership, Olmert expressed skepticism that Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti - currently imprisoned for organizing terror attacks against Israelis during the second intifada - could emerge as a potent leader able to unify deeply divided Palestinian factions. "Imagine that Barghouti is released tomorrow. Is there a way for him to prove that he's not a collaborator with the Israelis? There's only one way: to be more extreme than the present leadership," he said.