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It was sad to be in the plaza opposite the Tel Aviv Museum of Art last Saturday night. Very sad - but not unexpected. Even at the height of the impressive wave of protests last summer, I wrote in these pages that demonstrations which don't quickly find a political base and a determined leadership are destined to evaporate. The greatest enemy of an informal movement like this one is the passage of time.

Protests can achieve results only when they present an alternative that poses a genuine threat to the establishment. Ostensibly, there were a few days like that last summer, but they didn't last: The threat was eliminated then and there.

Today, however, the protest doesn't even constitute a nuisance, because it's become clear that its activists aren't capable of leading a movement. One of the most prominent, by virtue of his position as chairman of the National Student Union, Itzik Shmuli, is developing into a run-of-the-mill politician in search of a path to the Knesset. And the others, who include some true idealists, have fallen victim to both their own naivete and the manipulations of the government.

But they can also blame themselves, because a war over bread and butter for the middle class is certainly a worthwhile goal, but not for people in their twenties. That could be left to Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini.

From them, we would have expected a great outcry, both against the oppression built into the very bones of Israel's capitalist system and in favor of an uprising against the formal establishment of an apartheid state, which the justice minister is working on at this very moment on the government's behalf. What should one think of young people who don't utter a peep in the face of the daily oppression in the territories, and also aren't frightened by the erosion of basic democratic values in the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the education system?

Indeed, anyone who has pretensions to change anything in the Israeli reality is required to deal simultaneously with the fact that its neoliberal economy, by its very nature, rejects the principles of equality and solidarity, and with the apartheid that is rapidly gaining legitimacy among the public. Thus, in order to create a welfare state here in the Western European style, we need a different national leadership. And for that, we need an uncompromising battle to replace Netanyahu's government.

Nevertheless, Israel's fate won't be determined by the level of value-added tax, or by the Iranian bomb that may or may not ever materialize, but by the future of the territories. On this, there is no room for doubt. Distortions in the tax system can be fixed, and Iran can be neutralized. But what can't be fixed, and is gradually bringing us to the point of no return, is the occupation.

Yet lo and behold, this existential question has miraculously vanished from the agenda, thanks to a tacit agreement between the right, which controls the government, and the Labor Party. Thus, the danger of the liquidation of the democratic Jewish state has ceased to be a bone of contention.

This development is without precedent in the history of democratic politics: It's doubtful that there has ever before been a democratic state where an incomparably controversial issue on which its very existence depends has been silenced and buried by agreement between the government and the opposition. There have, however, been countries in which the cowardice of the opposition has exacted an unbearable price.

The next question, then, is what can be done? The active core of the protest still has an important role to play - not to act on its own, but to serve as a bridge between all the forces of opposition to the leadership, one that will smash the agreement between Likud and Labor. This is the way to a welfare state that aspires to equality and justice for all - for Israelis, Palestinians and work migrants alike. This is also the way to realize a two-state solution that will do justice to both peoples and save Israel from destruction.