debkafile’s Exclusive: The Rice phone call to Olmert indicates Washington is ready to move on

In her phone call Friday, Jan. 6, to acting prime minister Ehud Olmert, US secretary of state Condoleezza first inquired about the health of ailing prime minister Ariel Sharon, before getting down to brass tacks.
Who have you chosen as your contact man with the Bush administration? she asked. Whom do we call when there is a problem?
The very question carries three messages:
1. The Bush administration realizes the Sharon era is over and is feeling its way towards a different style of relations with the incoming administration in Jerusalem. The acting premier is known to have little in common with – and no time for – the ailing prime minister’s senior advisers, Dov Weisglas, and Israeli ambassador to Washington, Dany Ayalon, or even Sharon’s political adviser Shlomo Turjeman. Most of Sharon’s exchanges with Washington were channeled through them. Olmert may in the interim avail himself of Weissglas and his Washington connections, but after the March 28 general election, he will let him go.
2. The Rice telephone call was also a test of the new Israeli leader’s ability to make fast decisions and judgments. She took advantage of Olmert’s being thrown off-balance by the unexpected responsibility thrust on him by his boss’s indisposition to put forward her own candidate as contact-man, the US ambassador in Tel Aviv, Richard Jones.
3. This was a smart move. Olmert, who is a long way from thinking about appointments, could hardly refuse. Sharon heartily disliked Jones’ predecessor, Dan Kurtzer, regarding him as a political enemy, and kept their contacts down to formal occasions. As long as Kurtzer was there, the US embassy had little clout. Rice saw her chance to restore the importance and relevance of the US embassy and its head. debkafile‘s political sources note that if Olmert accepts Ambassador Jones for the long term, he will buy into an arrangement which Sharon shunned: keeping contacts running between Jerusalem and Washington through American emissaries assigned to Israel. He preferred to work through his own representatives, sending them on his business to Washington. Sharon kept former US security coordinator Maj.-Gen William Ward, who turned out to be pro-Palestinian, out of the Jerusalem loop, and only grudgingly received the Quartet’s economic coordinator, James Wolfensohn, after President Bush nominated him his personal envoy.
The US secretary seems to have taken a step towards her goal of moving the acting premier away from the Sharon method of communication and channeling his interchanges with Washington in future through Ambassador Jones and the new US military coordinator Maj.-Gen Keith Dayton, who arrived in Israel Friday, Jan. 6.
Washington, like everyone else, is groping in the dark about the plans, stature and capabilities of the new man in the Israeli prime minister’s office. But US officials are aware that he lacks the strong infrastructure which hinged very much of American-Jewish tycoons that his predecessor cultivated in the United States. Sharon often asked them to undertake discreet personal missions on his behalf with the American government, without the knowledge of Weissglas. Although as Mayor of Jerusalem in the 1990s, Olmert traveled often to the United States to raise funds for the impoverished capital, he never collected a lineup of American political allies with the right connections in the US capital. He has a long way to go to rectify this omission.

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