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Like generals spending all their energy preparing for the next war, when in reality they are planning for the previous one, the politicians in Israel are knee-deep in the trauma of the Second Lebanon War, stuck in a morass that is dictating their priorities and their moves, and does not contribute to understanding the root of the country's distress and the direction where potentially safer ground lies.

The political world is now focused on the critical question of who has greater experience to deal with the military challenges ahead: Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak. The test of leadership set by the Winograd Committee is based on defense and diplomatic experience, and the candidates competing for the leadership of the country are evaluated on this basis. The political maneuvers in Labor and Kadima are being carried out on the assumption that in the coming months, the country is once more expected to face serious security crises: in the Gaza Strip, in Lebanon and possibly against Syria.

Barak, Ami Ayalon, and also Ehud Olmert, Peres, Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, are waving the diplomatic and/or defense experience they've accumulated, in an effort to gain or to retain the crown over their parties. Their political future hinges on their ability to convince their constituents (or the institutions of their parties) that they are more qualified than their rivals to deal with the security challenges ahead.

The field of competition has been selected by the competitors themselves: E ach of them sings his own praises about his military and/or diplomatic experience, while emphasizing his ability to correct the failures that emerged last summer and prepare the country for the war hurtling toward us.

This is an assumption that could be justifiably challenged: Instead of focusing on preparations for a war that allegedly is unavoidable, the candidates for the leadership of the country should be asked to present the citizenry with a peace plan. More important to Barak's political ambitions are his views on Israeli-Palestinian relations rather than his military career or the recommendations he whispered to Peres at the start of the Lebanon war. The public is entitled to know what lessons Barak learned from his failure as prime minister to reach a permanent solution with Yasser Arafat. Is he returning as a candidate in the political arena with fresh insights on the chances for dialogue between the two peoples? Does he still aspire to reach a permanent solution or does he prefer the interim arrangement? Has the rise of Hamas to power changed his outlook? Does he think that the conflict can be solved, or has he come to terms with the approach that says we should make do with managing the conflict and avoid a thorough solution?

Olmert also has a few questions to answer. He was elected on the basis of the convergence plan that declared his intention to narrow the Jewish presence in the West Bank. This idea faded with Hamas' rise to power, the resumption of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip and the impact of the Second Lebanon War. In the name of what agenda is Olmert holding on to power? What is he offering the Israeli public, apart from a spectacle of political acrobatics whose sole purpose is his personal political survival?

Benjamin Netanyahu is also not exempt from answering these same questions. What is the Likud's recipe for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? On the face of it, Netanyahu's doctrine is clear: The occupation is not the root of the country's problems, but rather, it is the attitude of the Arab world in general, and of Islamic fundamentalism led by Iran in particular. But Netanyahu has already been prime minister, and has experienced first-hand the impact of the conflict on the fabric of Israeli life. He cannot ignore the corrosive effect of this chronic problem if he expects the public to regard him as a national leader and not only a party head with an ideological fixation. Does Likud have a reasonable solution to the contradiction between the wish to retain the Zionist and democratic character of the state and the continued hold over the territories, with all the demographic implications inherent in this?

It is no coincidence that the candidates for the leadership of the country are concentrating on the next war and ignoring their duty to propose solutions to the country's fundamental problem: the occupation.