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Look around: On the shelf are four truly realistic candidates to head the next government - Ehud Olmert, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak. All of the others do not stand a chance. How should we choose between them? The decisive criterion upon which they should be judged in the current state of affairs is their courage, their ability to make daring decisions. While everyone is wallowing in relatively secondary matters - corruption, the economy, Iran or the system of government - even though everyone knows what should really be done to put an end to the thickest cloud that weighs upon the state, the cloud of occupation, the important question is which of them has the courage to thrust his hand into the fire. With a degree of sadness, it must be said that the only one of the four who is endowed with real courage is Barak. Thus, his return to the political arena is good news, encouraging, and the stir the laconic announcement of his return aroused is unequivocal proof of this.

Israel has never faced a situation like the one it encounters today. A loss of direction has spread everywhere. With chronically apathetic and passive public opinion, a feeble leadership that has lost even the aspiration to bring about change, and an internal and external reality that is dangerous in an unprecedented way, we need to now put aside all of the other considerations. In normal times, a leader should be judged by his way of life, his interaction with those around him, his personal integrity and moral standing. But these are not normal times. Something truly big has to occur in order to generate the change.

Barak tried once to take actions of historic dimensions. He tried and failed, but he at least tried. He did not talk about "easing passage at the checkpoints" and did not back the "Livni plan." He did not embark on a futile war of choice and did not engage in evacuating "illegal outposts" and "convergence." Barak spoke about a final, comprehensive solution, a great leap across the abyss, without interim accords and road maps.

Olmert and Netanyahu failed as prime ministers, but they did not even try to take the great step of removing the curse of the occupation from Israel, which endangers its future like no other threat. All of the other dangers lurking at Israel's doorstep derive from this danger or are secondary to it in importance. Olmert and Netanyahu had the opportunity but did not even think to try and take advantage of it.

Ayalon has not had the opportunity, but his statements do not so far indicate his intention to search for it; and his lack of political experience disqualifies him from the position at this time. Politics is also a profession and Ayalon has not yet entered the profession. We have had enough of leaders who learn the ropes at our expense, with the resounding failures of Amir Peretz and Amram Mitzna, good people who made mistakes. Ayalon's support for partial, hesitant plans like that of the foreign minister, places him among the ranks of leaders who think small. This leaves Barak.

In December 2004, I wrote here: "The fact that Ehud Barak is the only one who represents any hope is depressing. The fact that the Labor Party is deliberating between its slew of generals, all of them tainted by the occupation, is sad. But precisely in this type of situation, the abandonment of any trace of hope, even that which Barak offers, is a luxury that peace seekers cannot allow themselves, just because he failed once. All of his other colleagues have failed much more. They have not even tried. And they never will try." If these words were true two years ago, they are true sevenfold today. Since then, we have had a war and new dangers have arisen. And in the face of these dangers, there is a gaping vacuum of leadership, bereft of content.

No one should be unduly impressed by the tidings of "the personal change" that Barak has undergone. He remains as he was. Arrogant, brutal, late to wake up in the morning and not nice. Charles de Gaulle and Frederik Willem de Klerk also were not nice people. Nonetheless, their nations owe them a profound historic debt because of their great actions, because of the courage to break the vicious circle that no one else had dared to break. Barak has not yet proved that he is like them, but the potential exists. He is the one who disseminated the great lie that there is no Palestinian partner, and the moral stain of the criminal October 2000 events is indelibly attached to him. The same is true for the critical mistakes he made at Camp David, which we are still paying for today. We do not need to forgive him for all this, but we need to examine the chance he brings: the chance to return to the great days when they discussed dividing Jerusalem, the right of return and the return to the 1967 borders in an effort to bring the conflict to an end - instead of issues like changing the system of government or easing passage at the checkpoints. We are not seeking Barak's friendship, but his leadership.

Barak brought the IDF out of Lebanon in one fell swoop and then turned to the following vital issues: peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians. He reached the brink of an agreement with Syria and panicked, something that is clearly unforgivable. And with the Palestinians, he engaged in daring discussions that ended in a resounding failure. But unlike the other candidates, Barak wanted to leave an historic mark. He understood that this would happen only if he took an historic step. It is permissible to give him, and us, the benefit of the doubt and to believe that his return might signal an aspiration to conduct another such attempt, this time with greater courage. Sometimes a second test date is preferable to the first test date. We have no choice but to allow him to be tested again. Think about the alternatives: Will Netanyahu make peace? Will Olmert evacuate even a house plant? Will Ayalon have the power and authority to make critical decisions? This leaves only Barak, only Barak.