Prime Minister Livni, Foreign Minister Olmert

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has improved greatly over the past year. He is more level-headed and less arrogant.

I know, ostensibly, it is none of my business. Kadima is a sovereign party, and why should I meddle in its business? But it cannot be helped - it is the party in power, and what happens there will affect Israel very much. The coming days will decide if the opportunity for a peace agreement that arose in 2008 can be taken advantage of, or if we will miss this opportunity as well. That is very much connected to the Kadima leadership.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has improved greatly over the past year. He is more level-headed and less arrogant. Once bitten, twice shy. Alongside strange and harsh decisions such as the provocative appointment of Professor Daniel Friedmann to the war on the courts, the resuscitation of the Religious Affairs Ministry and supporting massive construction in East Jerusalem, Olmert has led a reasoned diplomatic process, making courageous statements that no prime minister before him ever did. If not for the war in Lebanon, he could have continued at his post with no small measure of success.

But the war in Lebanon did take place, and so did its last two accursed days. Those two days were an effort to create the image of victory after the United Nations resolution had already been formulated. That last operation was ostensibly launched to influence the resolution. Those responsible for it were then-chief of staff Dan Halutz and then-defense minister Amir Peretz, as well as Prime Minister Olmert. Two resigned; the third cannot remain at his post, certainly not in the near future.

I am not waiting for the Winograd report. I was not waiting for the first installment and I am not in suspense ahead of the second. Everything is completely clear in terms of responsibility. In a democratic country responsibility is binding.

Especially this terrible responsibility. But the political establishment is waiting, and on January 30 will take action to get Olmert to resign. He is already getting ready for his next battle for survival. But he cannot remain where he is.

The right is spearheading a campaign for early elections. It wants to stop talks with Fatah, and believes, according to the polls, that this is the chance of a lifetime. That is exactly the reason I have no interest in supporting such a move. Elections in 2008 are like declaring there will be no diplomatic progress this year, while in 2009, after presidents Mahmoud Abbas and George W. Bush leave office, new governments will not be quick to enter such delicate negotiations. A right-wing victory will slam the door on any attempt to reach an agreement with the Palestinians based on the Clinton plan or the Geneva Initiative, and we will be back in 1996, when the right came to power and the diplomatic process was cut short, a process that should have led to a final agreement in 1999.

If Olmert cannot continue in office, he can contribute to the diplomatic process, and if elections are an undesirable option, then the optimal solution is for the rook to switch places with the king. Over the past 25 years all of Israel's prime ministers have found themselves as ministers (foreign affairs, defense, finance) after they were prime minister. Some later returned to the top post.

Olmert could keep a stiff upper lip and join this chain, replacing Tzipi Livni as foreign minister, while Livni takes the post of premier. True, Kadima has other candidates, some of them worthy, but there is no doubt that Livni is the most popular and this must be taken into consideration.

I would propose that Olmert do this even before the Winograd report comes out, and not go into a battle which, if he survives, will leave him bruised and vulnerable. Livni can put together a coalition that will help her lead the diplomatic process, while Olmert, if he is sincere in his diplomatic determination, can devote most of his time to this task, heading the negotiating team.

The writer is a Meretz MK.