Ehud Olmert is the 12th Israeli to serve as Prime Minister and probably the best politician of them all. Ariel Sharon, his immediate predecessor, was a professional hero. Olmert, 60, is a lawyer, a dealmaker, an inside man. His Israel is a modern, democratic society, not a biblical re-enactment. Olmert was Sharon's consigliere on the decision to leave Gaza. He calculated that Israel couldn't rule the Palestinians there and remain a democracy; he had no trouble deciding which was more important. Olmert helped Sharon see the arithmetic and the political equation. It was a gutsy thing for a lifelong Likudnik to do, and it won Olmert enough respect to get him nominated and elected.
Olmert plans to finish the security barrier, bring Israeli settlers into a few blocks and leave the rest of the West Bank to the Palestinians. It's a fraught policy. The settlers and the Arabs will come to it kicking and screaming, if at all. This departure from the status quo requires more power than an Israeli Prime Minister has. So Olmert needs U.S. support. He inherits a strong partnership with George W. Bush. The President saw Sharon as a Jewish Texan, and Sharon treated him as a fellow warrior. The Bush-Olmert relationship will be based on more prosaic commonalitiesgood marriages, a shared mania for sports and exercise. In the end, preserving Bush as an ally is a politician's job, and Olmert is well suited to it.
Author and journalist Chafets is currently at work on a book about Jews and evangelical Christians