Back in the '50s, it was said that the success of the Japanese automobile industry was in large measure based on a management concept, introduced by Toyota in those years, called "just-in-time." Rather than storing a large inventory of parts that would be needed for the assembly line, they ordered the parts so that they would arrive just in time for the final assembly, thus saving the capital costs of maintaining a large inventory of parts and the cost of interest on this capital investment.

Management principles utilized in the automobile industry are surely not directly applicable to diplomatic processes, but one is, nevertheless, struck by the polar opposite of this concept being pioneered by the Olmert government, as it prepares for the Annapolis meeting and subsequent negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas.

They say that they are preparing to arrive at an agreement with Abbas, which will be put on the shelf. Not to be ready just in time for its implementation, or to be implemented on signing, but rather to lie there on the shelf until such time as the situation is deemed ripe for its implementation.

This innovative concept will no doubt go down in the annals of diplomatic history, and puzzle researchers for years to come. What logic is there in arriving at an agreement that is not based on the facts on the ground at the time the agreement is being signed? Who knows what the situation will be in the future? Why not be sure that the prevailing conditions are such as to justify the agreement, and just what is the shelf-life of such an agreement?

We may not know with certainty just what will be the shelf-life of any agreement reached in the wake of the Annapolis meeting, but one thing is sure - the life expectancy of the Olmert government and of Mahmoud Abbas' limited influence among the Palestinian population can be counted in months and not in years. This will be no more than a virtual negotiation. So it is really much ado about nothing.

In the meantime, another excuse has been added to the many excuses that have been offered this past year for Israel's not taking military action to move the Qassam rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza out of range of civilian targets in the Negev.

First the inhabitants of Sderot were told that there is no "magic solution" to the problem. Then we heard repeated endlessly that there is no such thing as "one shot and it's over." Next came the idiotic excuse that said that, even if the Qassam rockets were put out of range, the terrorists would start using longer-range rockets.

Next came the mendacious excuse that we have already tried everything and nothing has stopped the Qassams from hitting Sderot, so why send the IDF into the Strip? Or, alternately, please be patient for a few years until the Qassam interception system has been developed and provides a protective umbrella to Sderot and other towns and villages in the western Negev.

Or worst of all, that the calculation shows that an IDF incursion into Gaza would result in more military casualties than the civilian casualties resulting from the Qassam rocketing of Sderot's civilian population.

And now here comes Annapolis. Now the line is that nothing should be done that might disturb the atmosphere in the period leading up to the Annapolis summit. Isn't this far more important than the peace of mind of the citizens of Sderot?

Mahmoud Abbas is clearly not capable of implementing any agreement. We know it. He knows it. And Condoleezza Rice knows it. To the stupid claim that there is no harm in trying, the answer is that whereas the Annapolis process is in no way injurious to the Palestinian case, it weakens Israel's position when and if we finally sit down with some real, and not virtual, Palestinian representatives to negotiate. Everything will have already been conceded, and another lame excuse will have been added to the list explaining why the government is not fulfilling its duty to protect the citizens of the western Negev.