It is quite common to equate prime ministers to bicycle riders: As long as they peddle forward they have a good chance of surviving. When they stop they fall.
In other words, a cabinet is not just a place of work. It is a manufacturing facility. It is expected to manufacture a national reality for tomorrow that would surpass today's national reality. Treading water is not an option. This rule holds especially true in a dynamic society that is hungry for change and abhors foot-dragging, such as Israeli society.
Two former Israeli prime ministers, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Shamir, believed emotionally and ideologically that their role was to impede change. Others searched frantically for a dramatic, historic move that would drastically change the state of the nation.
The aspirations of the majority were to sign a peace agreement, or at least an intermediate agreement -namely a track that would lead them to the objective known as "diplomatic process." They sanctified the process even when it had no chance of culminating into an agreement: The fact that it existed, or so they believed, warded off the danger of war and strengthened Israel's position in the world.
Ehud Olmert took up his seat in office with an air of change. His realignment plan was aimed at setting permanent borders between Israel and the Palestinians, either via negotiations or a unilateral move. The plan died and was buried somewhere between Bint Jbeil and Wadi Saluki in Lebanon during the recent war.
The problem has remained in place: Where has the diplomatic process disappeared to, and can Israel allow itself to relinquish it?
Abbas can't deliver
Three negotiating tracks require discussion by the incumbent government. The first is engaging in talks with Syria. Military and outside sources are convinced that this track is a necessity. If the government ignores it, it may find itself caught up in a war with Syria as early as this summer.
Ehud Olmert is hesitant; he is weary of this being a trick: All that Assad wants is to get Israel's recognition, which would free him of the burden of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's murder. It is clear what Israel would have to give in return: The entire Golan Heights, despite the heavy internal dispute involved in such move. It is not quite clear what the Syrians would be willing to give.
A second possible track is engaging in talks with Mahmoud Abbas over a final-status agreement. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would be happy to end her term in office with an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in her resume. Never have the leaders on both sides been so close in their stances. Why not try?
Abbas can promise peace. The problem is that he can't deliver. In practice he has lost Gaza, and it is doubtful whether his rule over the West Bank will last much longer. Practically the only chance for rescuing Fatah is the establishment of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation that would rule over the West Bank with the swords of the Jordanian Legion. Without Jordanian involvement talks with Abbas would only breed frustration.
A third possible track is reaching an understanding with Hamas over a tahadiya (temporary armistice) for a period of 10-20 years. Here too the risk is great: Hamas will take advantage of the armistice in order to take over the West Bank and to enhance its arsenal. No one can pledge that terror organizations will not rise up and continue firing Qassam rockets towards Israel alongside Hamas, or that Hamas itself would not be divided into two factions, one political and the other combatant.
Any track involves a great measure of risk; however, avoiding the options is no less dangerous. He who doesn't decide leaves the decision in the hands of others.