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When it came to the "taking" part of coalition negotiations, she failed, but in the "giving," she succeeded. One must, however, establish a limit to what one is willing to give, and Shas has never known a limit to its satiation. Extortion has a very distasteful quality: It begets more extortion. And if one yields to it the first time, why not surrender the next time? What's the difference?

Where can one find another country where a religious man, a sort of ayatollah, 88 years old, frail, detached and prone to bouts of weeping, determines the fate of governments - our fate, for better or worse? If there is such a country out there, who would be willing to live in it? On second thought, it is not fair to drape the blame around the rabbi's neck: It is too easy to say that he is the one making the decisions, while in effect it is others deciding for him. Indeed, Eli Yishai never considered joining the government from the outset. The fear of Aryeh Deri always overcomes him, even this time around. The future of Jerusalem is, in his eyes, equal to the future of poor families, but his own future can be weighed against everything.

It is impossible to predict what kind of prime minister Tzipi Livni will be, if she does indeed become prime minister. She is, at the very least, deserving of the benefit of the doubt, while it is doubtful that the other candidates are worthy of the same benefit. We have already come to know them; we have seen their handiwork, we have experienced it, and there was much discomfort.

Now they are running down her list of mistakes. This is a major rule in the doctrine of discussion: Everybody is adroit at handling the negotiations of the other in hindsight. Professional kibitzers peek over the shoulders of the main players, always winning the game that is not theirs to play. They claim, these kibitzers, that this would never happen to, say, Shimon Peres. As if 2008 is 1990, a stinking year. As if Livni is the one who sewed the suit, invited the entire family to come, ascended to the podium, and suddenly - alas - Avraham Verdiger disappeared, left the building, while Eliezer Mizrachi hid in the orchard and hasn't been found yet.

Now they are taunting her over her promise of a "different kind of politics," which she sought to introduce. Yuck, yuck. That's a good one. Why do they need a different kind of politics when they have it so good in the standard politics of today? Certain fish actually enjoy swarming about in muddy waters, and they agonize whenever somebody replaces the water, struggling to take oxygen into their gills. Benjamin Netanyahu is such a fish, as are Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz and Rafi Eitan - an entire aquarium.

There is one issue over which there is no disagreement among those offering advice: Netanyahu is emerging as the winner. Except that Bibi has already won many times, and only once did he truly win, one time too many. And this was a long time ago. In recent days, he has become the national briber. He enticed Shas with enlarged child allowances. Bibi taketh away, and Bibi giveth, and the rabbi will offer him his blessing. He even tried to lure the Pensioners, offering them resurrection in the form of a guaranteed spot on the Likud slate for the next Knesset.

Soon there will be elections, and it will be said that they are unrivaled in their importance. This time, that is accurate. Many existential matters, no less, await decisive action, and time is of the essence. Many unprecedented opportunities wait to be exploited, and there is much work to be done. In order to begin it and even to end it, we need a reliable hand - not hands that have been trained to corrupt.