There was a sign on U.S. president Harry Truman's desk that read "The buck stops here." In other words, authority and responsibility stop here, with the person sitting behind this desk.
Truman, as the most powerful man in the world, was proud of the fact that all the authority rested in his hands - and also all the responsibility that stemmed from it.
Here in Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is about to conclude his term. And Olmert very much wants to exit history having paid his last debt to Israeli society by bringing Gilad Shalit home. This is a lofty goal, and for its sake, Olmert is willing to pay the necessary price - the release of terrorists, apparently hundreds of them, including people considered extremely dangerous killers.
Olmert has the authority to bring about Gilad Shalit's release - after all, he is prime minister. But Olmert will not bear the responsibility entailed in the decision to free Shalit: The price of this decision, should there be one, will be paid by the next government, and only during its tenure will the full cost become clear. Olmert's behavior is thus the antithesis of Truman's.
He wants to have full authority at a time when he is abandoning all responsibility.
It is certainly possible that the price for freeing Gilad Shalit is justified. But the only body with the authority to make this decision is the one that will have to bear responsibility for its results - the next government.
It is not only morally unacceptable for today's caretaker government to make the decision on freeing Shalit, it also violates the principles of good government.
Precisely because Olmert is not likely to have to pay for his decision, it is conceivable that he might act rashly and irresponsibly on this matter.
The belief that Olmert is concerned about how he will go down in history, and that he hopes to remove the two stains that cling to him - the Second Lebanon War and Gilad Shalit - stir fears that his personal considerations might overcome what is best for the country in the long run.
And as long as he does not need to bear responsibility for whatever decision he makes, that fear cannot be alleviated.
Authority must never be separated from responsibility, because both the managerial and moral results of such a separation are liable to be disastrous.
That is why all the economic measures taken by the Bush administration in its last two months were coordinated with Barack Obama -because it was clear that the new Obama administration would have to cope with the results of these actions, not the prior Bush administration.
Fate has been kind to the Americans: They have a well-ordered culture of government from which the State of Israel could learn much.
Meanwhile, however, the decision on releasing Gilad Shalit should be left to the body that will have both authority and responsibility - the next government.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now