When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits America, he is welcomed as a war criminal.
In Australia, Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian treats him like a glorious hero:
Ehud Olmert is a giant of contemporary Middle East politics. As Israel’s prime minister he made war – twice – in Lebanon in 2006, and in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. He’s also tried to make peace, offering the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, the most extensive concessions any Israeli leader has ever brought to the table in the search for a settlement.
Now Olmert’s out of office, not because he lost an election but because he is fighting corruption charges in the courts. Previous such charges against him came to nothing and Olmert has always asserted his innocence.
In Sydney this week, I conducted, perhaps, the longest interview and discussion Olmert has undertaken with any media since leaving office in March after more than three years as prime minister.
Dressed in jeans and black T-shirt with a Red Bull logo, Olmert looked pretty chipper for a balding lawyer with a modest paunch in his early 60s who’d just flown 24 hours from Israel.
For 90 minutes in the boardroom of Sydney’s Park Hyatt, and then over a relaxed lunch with his wife, Aliza, at Circular Quay, Olmert talked with remarkable frankness about the military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon, the historic peace deal he offered the Palestinians, President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy and the options for action against Iran.
Olmert’s role in history is a big one. If he clears his name of the corruption charges he could come back to the centre of Israeli life, as previous prime ministers – like Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu, now PM for the second time – and Labour’s Ehud Barak, who both staged comebacks.