Ehud, Fidel, and Me

Jerusalem was gray on the March morning, twelve years back, when I met Ehud Olmert. He was the newly-installed mayor of the city then, not the country's acting prime minister. But like now, he was following a legendary figure -- Teddy Kollek, who had run Jerusalem for nearly thirty years, and built a big chunk of what we know of the city today. The consensus was that Olmert would never escape his predecessor's outsized shadow.2world.gifA family friend, tight with the Likud party, had set up a meeting at the end of a month-long trip to the Middle East. I did my best to look respectable for the occasion, shaking out the wrinkles and dust out my backpacker's clothes. I wasn't particularly successful.Olmert nodded to me from behind his desk as I was ushered into his expansive, airy office. Then he took a puff of a long, black cigar. It was about 8am or so, not normally when you think of people lighting up. I told him I liked his style."Oh, these? Fidel gave them to me last month. I have boxes of them," he said, reaching into a drawer, and handing me a fistful. "Here, take."We started bantering. He struck me as bright -- very bright -- and mega cynical. He was suspicious about the handshake deal between Yizthak Rabin and Yassir Arafat that I had seen a few months earlier on the White House lawn. And he wanted every scrap of information he could get about Hillary Clinton.But the cigar is one of the few specifics from the encounter that still comes through clearly. That, and Olmert's confidence. Other folks may have been doubting the new mayor's abilities. Olmert told me that morning that he'd be prime minister one day.After about twenty minutes, it was over. I took a walk down Yaffa Street. And lit up one of my new Havanas.

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