(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Diplomats and journalists from overseas have been showering Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with praise in recent months, describing her as an astute and creative stateswoman. Now they might want to ask her exactly how she expects to continue as a senior member of the government after telling the public its leader should resign.
After 48 hours of carefully studying the Winograd Report, she reached a breathtaking conclusion: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must leave, but she personally isn't going to do anything about it, and no, she has no problem continuing to serve in his administration.
Whether or not Olmert decides to fire her - and she has now given him every justification to do so - Livni has ceased to pose a threat.
Livni was quite happy to have other people do the dirty work for her. If the resigning coalition chairman, MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, had presented her with a list of 15 Kadima lawmakers prepared to call for Olmert's resignation, she would have gracefully accepted the verdict and served as their leader.
But real leadership is not presented on a platter. It has to be grasped by a resolute candidate, prepared to take the plunge whatever the consequences. After this week, Livni will have trouble convincing colleagues that she has what it takes to reach the top.
The potential rebels in Kadima are already casting around for a new champion. But the ease in which the nascent rebellion within the party has been put down means that they will have trouble finding one.
Livni wasn't the first minister to back down. Early in the day her ally, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who had also been seen as a potential leader of the insurrection, announced that he felt Olmert deserved another chance, at least until the Winograd Committee delivers its final report this summer.
Two other Olmert rivals, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, have also been singularly silent. Olmert has long been regarded as a premier political operator, but the way the uprising was swiftly nipped in the bud was indeed a master class.
The spin the prime ministers' advisers and allies began broadcasting a few hours after the Winograd Report was published was simple, but effective none the less. Forcing Olmert to resign, they said, would cause such chaos as to render elections inevitable. And elections at this point mean victory for Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and obliteration for Kadima.
The party members knew, of course, that technically the current coalition could rally around another prime minister without holding new elections, but they were afraid to take the risk.
Livni, Mofaz and Dichter are all relatively inexperienced in political maneuvering and coalition-building, and their party still has virtually no grassroots support. All of a sudden, the prospect of dealing, on their own, with the leaders of the other coalition parties gave them a case of cold feet.
Even a wily political fox like Sheetrit was worried that a putsch against Olmert and a premature struggle between his would-be succesors would tear the 18-month-old party apart.
Very few if any of Kadima's ministers expect Olmert to last more than a few more months in power, but their collective decision seems to be that it would be better for the party if he stays on for just a bit longer.
For Mofaz and Sheetrit, who plan to compete for party leader, it gives them more time to marshal their forces and to plan a campaign.
Livni made it clear at her press conference Wednesday that she also plans to run in that race, but her hesitation over the past two days has cost the foreign minister her lead over her rivals.