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There are moments when a star is born, as the Israeli version of "American Idol" would have it, and there are moments when a leader is born. The moment when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni walked off the podium after her press conference at the ministry will be remembered as a moment of missed opportunity and great embarrassment.

It's unpleasant to see such a senior minister finding her way amid tangled verbiage meant to get her off the hook with a vestige of self-respect. Yitzhak Rabin said about Shimon Peres that leadership isn't built on whining; by the same token, one can say about Livni that leadership isn't built on cowardice.

The partial Winograd report, which focused on the beginning of the Second Lebanon War and was released on Monday, could have been a turning point in Livni's meteoric career. She had the fate of the government and of the prime minister in her hands. If Livni had resigned the day after the report was released, it's reasonable to assume that Olmert would no longer be prime minister - and Livni would have become the alternative. Her resignation would have set off a snowball effect that would have led to Olmert's political death, or at least critical injury.

The political establishment waited with bated breath for her decision, which turned out to be a typical Livni compromise. Only it was a compromise between her inclination to resign and her worry about losing her seat.

Livni has so far been meticulous in maintaining a clean image. She is essentially honorable and respectable, and it's a shame there aren't more like her. But in no normal government would a minister who organized a failed putsch and publicly called on the prime minister to resign be allowed to remain in position. Not even to make sure that the problems get fixed - the reason Livni gave for why she wanted to stay in the government.

Knowing the vengeful Olmert, he won't let Livni get close to fixing anything. He will drag her along here and there, and in a few days or a few weeks, he'll perform a mercy killing. Politically speaking, of course.

Livni locked herself into a tough situation. If she didn't quit after the war and she didn't quit after the Winograd report was released, then what can she possibly quit over? Because Olmert won't invite her to meetings with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas? During the war, she was thinking the right way, feeling the right way, asking the right questions - but she didn't show the personal and public courage to bang on the table. She went with the flow.

Olmert managed to cut down the buds of mutiny in the last few days, but he has yet to reach safety. Tonight the public reaction will begin, with protesters rallying in Rabin Square, and who knows where it will lead. A new Labor leader will be elected at the end of the month; if Ami Ayalon wins, he will have to stand by his word and take Labor out of the government, unless he backtracks. In between, the embarrassing records of Olmert's testimony before the Winograd Committee are due to be released. And come August, the government will have to face the greatest test of all: the final war report.