Now's Not the Time

Anger is not a good compass for practical politics, and the main question is whether removing Olmert at this point would be beneficial or counterproductive for the country.

The Winograd Committee's final report on the performance of decision-makers in the Second Lebanon War has not yet been released, but already some are calling for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation.

The desire to punish Olmert, albeit belatedly, for his errors before and during the war is understandable, beginning with Amir Peretz's appointment to defense minister, the hasty decision to launch into battle, and allowing the Israel Defense Forces to be dragged into a war of attrition and to the final and unnecessary campaign.

But anger is not a good compass for practical politics, and the main question is whether removing Olmert at this point would be beneficial or counterproductive for the country.

Olmert has achieved impressive success since the war with the goal that he had set for himself: "Focusing on running the country." According to any yardstick, Israel is faring better under Olmert than all of his predecessors.

The economy is booming, terrorism has declined, the political system enjoys stability, and the IDF is rebuilding its strength under an experienced defense minister. Olmert has renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, and is acting to freeze settlements - while avoiding internal conflicts.

His risky decision to go ahead with the Israel Air Force strike in Syria did not lead to a confrontation, and resulted in no damage on the international front. "The world" is friendlier to Israel than before, and the president of the United States is on his way to Jerusalem, for the first time in his term.

But Olmert has failed in providing hope for the future. A year and half after the cease-fire in Lebanon, the national mood according to polls is still low. Financial growth and few terrorist attacks do not serve to calm the public, which fears for its country's future as it faces radical Islam under an unpopular leadership. Yawns are all the shaky talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seem to elicit.

The statement at the Annapolis peace summit in November - which promised to "make every effort" to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement - was taken to be a collection of empty words.

The impressive handling of the coalition that enabled the cabinet to pass the national budget on time and without scandals, is perceived as a political deal, and more an exercise in survival than proper leadership.

The main lesson from Olmert's time in office is that the ability to make the right decisions and propel political systems is not enough. National soundness requires popular leadership with a calming effect.

But suppose Olmert is forced to resign following the Winograd Report - what would his predecessor do? Is any one of the contenders offering a different solution for the country's problems? A different direction? Would Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni handle negotiations with the Palestinians any differently?

Would Defense Minister Ehud Barak have a better way of dealing with Palestinian Qassam rockets landing in the northern Negev? Would opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu change his tune on Iran if he takes the helm? Would he stop the talks with Abbas, which are so important for the Americans? Would any of them jump-start talks with Syria, when even France is boycotting President Bashar Assad?

Israel does not have a genuine political argument like the one that former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir had with Shimon Peres, or Netanyahu had with former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

All candidates point to the same path: Cautious negotiations with the moderate Palestinians, boycotting Hamas diplomatically, zero progress on the Syrian channel, fear of Iranian nuclear weapons and continuing financial growth.

In such a situation, replacing the prime minister would only make noise and put the country in an unnecessary elections campaign whose outcome would change nothing.

The year 2008 will be marked with the declining term of U.S. President George W. Bush, and his political ability will determine the moves on the diplomatic and security fronts. First and foremost, it will determine Israel's decision on whether to strike Iran or leave it alone, in the hope that the next U.S. administration would succeed in reaching understanding that would soften the Islamic Republic.

The government will also be required to make as much headway in peace talks as it can, achieve a stable cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza and retrieve Israel's abducted soldiers.

Next year, things will be different. The White House will see a new leader who will try to differentiate his or herself from Bush, and apply a new American leadership in the Middle East.

It would be a proper timing for a re-inspection of Israeli leadership, and refitting it for the new era in the region. That is why it makes sense to go to elections in 2009 - when the focus of attention will be electing a proper leadership for the country, instead of settling scores for the last war.