JERUSALEM, Jan. 10, 2006 -- Ehud Olmert may be running the government of Israel, but he is not using the prime minister's office or sitting in Ariel Sharon's chair during Cabinet meetings.
Olmert has said publicly he hopes and waits for Sharon to recover and return to the prime minister's office.
No one truthfully expects Sharon to be running the country anytime soon. However, Olmert's obviously calculated statements have made him more popular than he has ever been in his 33 years of public life.
Olmert is no Sharon.
In many ways, he is everything Sharon is not. Olmert does not have a strong military background, he's not widely popular with the Israeli public, and he is not well-known abroad. Most Israelis simply know him as a steady and professional politician.
Olmert studied law, psychology and philosophy at Hebrew University. He began politics at the age of 28 and has been re-elected seven consecutive times. He is known as shrewd, intelligent, and ready with a quick quip. Perhaps most telling of the style of leadership he applauds is his admiration and close friendship with former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Olmert does not shrink from a political fight. In 1993, he ran against the popular Teddy Kolleck for mayor of Jerusalem. Olmert won decisively and served two terms.
In 2003, Olmert ran against Sharon for the leadership of the Likud Party. Olmert lost, but Sharon welcomed him into the government. He was given the weak portfolio of industry and trade, and as a consolation he was named deputy prime minister.
Olmert has always been considered as hostile to Palestinians, especially while he was mayor of Jerusalem. While he did support Sharon's pullout from Gaza, Palestinians hardly consider him a man of peace.
Man of Peace?
If Olmert wins the March elections in Israel, do not expect peace talks with the Palestinians. Olmert is among a group of Israeli politicians who support a unilateral initiative -- a take-it-or-leave-it proposition to the Palestinians. This would likely include a final border agreement roughly based on the present route of the Wall and that would be unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority.
Olmert considers this a race against time as demographics in the region do not favor Israelis. If agreement of a two-state solution is not reached soon, there are fears Palestinians will eventually outnumber Israelis at the polling booth.
In a 2003 interview with Ha'aretz newspaper, he admitted Palestinians might eventually give up the fight against "The Occupation" and turn to a one-man-one-vote policy, which would mean Israelis would be outnumbered in elections.
"That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle -- and ultimately a much more powerful one," Olmert said. "For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state."