Like customers whose bank has collapsed, a number of Arab leaders are waiting outside the Prime Minister's Office holding notes and permits. Mahmoud Abbas, a long-time customer with privileges, wants to know who, if anyone, will be continuing the talks. Bashar Assad, who has recently joined the Israeli account, is inquiring if anything remains of the deposit he left with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah, foreign clients whose hands rest nervously on the phone and wonder when to call and congratulate the new prime minister, do not know if there is a new Israeli policy and where it is going: Will it adopt Olmert's list of prisoners to be released for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit? Are two states, Israel and Palestine, the solution acceptable to Tzipi Livni, or will she choose Israel and Jordan as a solution for the two peoples? And from afar, tossing a ball of uranium nervously from hand to hand, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wondering who this woman is who is going to manage the next threat against him.
Because after the enthusiasm dies down over the fact that a woman, with integrity, elegantly dressed and well-spoken, might be Israel's next prime minister, we can only try to guess what her positions will be - and that's hard to do. Livni has so far known how to evade any binding statement that indicates a clear policy. She has known how to enthusiastically stress important words to hide that there is nothing behind them. It seems that even Kadima's voters have not been able to understand the difference between her and Shaul Mofaz.
But Olmert is leaving Livni a very crowded desk that does not allow her to set priorities. Everything is urgent. In three months the Palestinian Authority will have to choose its new president. Will a legal solution be found to allow Abbas, whose term ends in January, to continue in office? Or will elections be held, if Israel allows them? If Mubarak succeeds in reconciling Hamas and Fatah, and a national unity government is formed in the PA, Israel will have to decide whether to cooperate with such a government even if it includes Hamas. That strategic decision will determine whether Israel prefers managing the crisis to solving it, because it is highly unlikely that comprehensive talks, or any kind of talks, could be held with such a government.
The Syrian channel has run its first phase, which decided the issues for direct talks. With or without another indirect meeting, it is clear that a policy decision in principle is needed on where the talks are going. Waiting for a new American president, who will take office as a new Palestinian president does (or the previous one continues his term), can no longer serve as an excuse. Israel needs to present the new American president with a road map of its own for negotiations with Syria, and not wait for months until his advisers are appointed and a policy formulated on Israel. The new pattern that Olmert instituted, in which obedience to U.S. policy does not necessarily rule out talks with Syria, could also serve Israel's next government. A peace agreement between Israel and Syria might not be the dream of a Republican regime, but it is an existential need for Israel.
Those who read the International Atomic Energy Agency chairman's reports on his efforts in Iran can and should assume that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. Those reports also attest to the extent of Iran's conventional threat to anyone who seeks to attack it. The policy of sanctions has so far been of no use, and attacking Iran does not promise a different outcome. Israel, which with the United States enlisted the world against the Iranian threat, may need a new policy, one directed at Iran's motivation to attack or, as former American secretaries of state have proposed, negotiations with Iran. This is also a strategic decision that cannot wait.
The question now is no longer whether Livni is capable of making such decisions - she has no choice. The real question is whether she will adopt a policy that Olmert has already decided for her, or if she will suddenly prove herself to be a real leader, the kind not afraid of innovations.
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