The total ineptitude that has characterized moves in recent weeks to extend the moratorium on construction in the settlements has done great damage to Israel's image abroad. It has also done nothing to improve relations with the United States. To be fair, the U.S. administration is as much to blame for all the incompetency shown - the blatant lack of skill and endless mistakes - as is the Israeli government.

But that's only a small consolation, since Israel can't afford to make every mistake that the United States can. And it deeply saddens our friends abroad that Israel is beginning to look more and more like a flock of sheep without a shepherd, a country suffering from a disturbing lack of leadership.

It is absolutely pathetic and contemptible that a cabinet minister and the head of the coalition would choose to call a meeting on the day after the prime minister returns from his trip to the United States, the declared intention of which is to undermine the policies of their own head of state.

The prime minister cannot be seen as someone who does not control his own government, someone incapable of spearheading diplomatic moves. If Benjamin Netanyahu is unable to implement another 90-day freeze, the entire world will see that the Israeli prime minister is incapable of pushing through a move he himself agreed to with the American government and committed himself to in the presence of the U.S. secretary of state. All the excuses and all the explanations about a letter that did not arrive and about understandings that were not understood, and about things that were said and perhaps not said, won't help.

The prime minister's desire to reach certain understandings with Washington about another moratorium is understandable and justified. That's how all Israeli governments have acted. But it's important that the public understand what is possible and reasonable and what is not. It is not possible to get $3 billion in exchange for a 90-day moratorium - certainly not in today's economic environment in the United States - and it is not reasonable that the United States would approve in writing that Israel can build in East Jerusalem, in blatant defiance of its position for the past 40 years.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has made very reasonable suggestions about what Israel should demand: a commitment from Washington that no additional moratorium will be sought, and acceptance of - if not agreement to - the prime minister's request that the moratorium not include Jerusalem. If a tacit, unwritten understanding can also be reached that when the time comes the United States will accept the long-term, yet temporary, presence of Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, this would be a remarkable achievement.

The prime minister must show leadership and guts. He must bring his proposal for an additional moratorium to the cabinet as soon as possible and demand that his fellow party members, the Likud cabinet ministers, support it. He must make it clear to them that he has no intention of relying on the benevolence of Shas, and that the choice is between supporting the prime minister and leader of their party or having the government collapse.

Seven hundred thousand citizens of Israel voted for the Likud and for Benjamin Netanyahu. They voted for the Likud because they wanted Benjamin Netanyahu as their prime minister. They voted for the Likud because they trusted Netanyahu and believed he would lead Israel in the right direction. They did not vote for Yuli Edelstein or for Zeev Elkin, and certainly not for Danny Danon or Tzipi Hotovely.

Getting the moratorium approved is a test of leadership for Netanyahu, and he owes it to his voters. The State of Israel cannot afford a prime minister who is a mere lame duck.