The Year of Missed Opportunity

Olmert is not capable of making difficult and unpopular decisions. He just tries not to make waves, not to annoy anyone too much − all for the sake of surviving for another month, another year.

The year 2007 will be remembered as the year of the great missed opportunity. Three hundred and sixty five days passed, but nothing happened. The country did not take even one small step forward toward solving its difficult problems. True, there was plenty of lofty talk and promises, but in reality, nothing moved.

There is admittedly a broad coalition, comprised of 78 members of Knesset, but it is directed by a prime minister who does not control either it or the MKs. In our grotesque reality, coalition members make deals with opposition MKs in order to bring down government decisions. And the government itself is large, clumsy and divided, with little in common between Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu), Eli Yishai (Shas) and Ehud Barak (Labor).

The dismal results of the Second Lebanon War brought Ehud Olmert's popularity to an unprecedented low, and rightly so. He went to war hastily, then lacked the good sense to finish it off quickly, with the help of the ladder that the G8 offered him. The ongoing corruption investigations in which he is involved further weaken his position. Olmert also lacks the personal gravitas and authority that Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon had. They changed positions and forced the government and the public to go along, whether in signing the Oslo accords or in evacuating the Gaza Strip. But Olmert is weak. He is not capable of making difficult and unpopular decisions. He just tries not to make waves, not to annoy anyone too much - all for the sake of surviving for another month, another year. He has only one strong point: his rhetorical skills, which mislead his listeners.

At the beginning of 2007, Olmert exuded boundless optimism. He spoke rivetingly about his desire to reach a compromise with the Palestinians, about his understanding of their suffering, about the need to evacuate tens of thousands of settlers and about two states for two peoples. In the social sphere, Olmert also excelled in lofty talk about the importance of education, about the need to advance and improve it, and about closing the gaps between rich and poor.

But in reality, the year looked very different. The Annapolis conference began with much fanfare and exalted talk, but it is gradually fading. Yesterday, when the sides met, the Palestinians complained about continued construction in the settlements and at Har Homa and the Israelis demanded that they fight terror - a dialogue of the deaf, without any sign of compromise. Meanwhile, Qassam rockets continue to fall on Sderot, the Israel Defense Forces continue to smite and kill in Gaza, and IDf soldier Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for a year and a half already. Even the Americans realize that there is no point in pressuring Olmert to evacuate illegal settlement outposts. He is simply not capable of it.

Granted, Olmert continues to talk about the importance of peace. But this week, the government approved additional funding of NIS 811 million for developing a system capable of shooting down Qassams and Katyushas. The system will be ready (perhaps) in another two and a half years, but will be frightfully expensive, and will not even provide a complete answer to the problem. The direction is clear: not an agreement, but war.

Olmert also speaks loftily about the importance of education and reforming the educational system to improve students' achievements. But 2007 will be remembered for its long strikes and the great missed opportunity in education. The required revolution did not take place. The "mini-reform" will effectively change nothing. The teachers will get a raise, and that is it. There will perhaps be a slight change in the elementary schools, but in the high schools, not even a slight change will be felt. The teachers' status will not change, the quality of teaching will not improve and the principal's authority will not increase. Israeli students' scores on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests will continue to drop, because the world is not waiting for us; it is marching forward. The prolonged strike by university lecturers also shows just how powerless the government is. The damage is tremendous, but the lecturers refuse to compromise. They, too, are aware that when the cat is weak, the mice can play.

The 2008 budget also teaches us that the government is incompetent. It is a tired budget that brings no good tidings. The few reforms it contained were removed under pressure from the MKs, except for one - relating to home gas supplies. Finance Minister Roni Bar-On was also forced to give up various cost-cutting measures and offer coalition parties hundreds of millions of shekels so that they would do him the favor of voting for the budget.

Just a few days ago, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that "Ehud Olmert is the weakest prime minister Israel has ever had." Assad of course was speaking only about the Golan Heights issue, which Olmert has been "examining" for an entire year now. But his definition is apt in all spheres of life. And we will be the ones to pay the price.