The Old City Dig / A United and Determined Government

The cabinet voted unanimously yesterday (the three ministers who abstained are not worthy of being counted in such a crucial vote) to continue excavating in the Old City. This government, despite being a broken reed, excels in unanimous votes. All the votes on last summer's war in Lebanon were also unanimous. A collapsing government likes to put on a brave face.

The vote was predictable, and not only because "we must not give in to threats." Its unanimity, which does not necessarily reflect unanimity of opinion, had another substantive motive: From the moment the defense minister sent - and publicized - a letter to Olmert asking that the dig be reconsidered, it was clear that the game was lost. Ehud Olmert will not allow Amir Peretz to educate him, and Peretz, as usual, will not stick to his guns. Instead, he has already fulfilled his obligation and covered his rear.

The dig began a week ago, yet the government still has trouble enunciating its purpose. Once, it was to ensure the safety of those traversing a bridge that collapsed and is being rebuilt; another time, it was a "salvage dig" aimed at proving the Temple Mount's Jewishness. But archaeology professor Meir Ben-Dov, who has run digs in the area for 39 years, believes that both reasons are unnecessary.

They say that it takes to two to dialogue, but one is enough to ignite a conflagration. When it comes to Olmert and Peretz, however, this truism collapses. When Hassan Nasrallah launched his provocation on the northern border, Ehud Olmert quickly joined him, and together, they launched the war. When Islamic Movement head Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, no mean provocateur, concocts stories about Al-Aqsa Mosque being destroyed, Olmert can be counted on to add fuel to the fire. On both sides, some people find quiet upsetting.

Governments that lack both confidence and credibility are distinguished not only by their unanimous votes, but by their lightning decision-making, meant to demonstrate their courage and determination. Thus the ministers decided on war in 10 minutes in the hallway, and on a dig at the world's most explosive site in a moment, and to reject the Mecca agreement on Palestinian unity in the blink of an eye, even before they had read it.

On the issue of Mecca, Ehud Ya'ari is correct that "Hamas bent." Thus what the government ought to do is abandon the test of words and move on to the test of deeds: The new Palestinian government's actions should be what qualify or disqualify it. But for Israel's united and determined government, bending is not enough. It will not be satisfied until the Palestinians crawl on their bellies and eat dust. And even then, it is not clear what our government's considered position would be.

The police were reportedly surprised by the weekend's rioting in Jerusalem, although it was clear that this would happen. Here, we are always surprised by the utterly unsurprising. One can therefore confidently predict additional surprises in the coming days.