Never has a fateful national decision been preceded by such intricate political maneuvering. Ever since the prime minister fired his transportation and tourism ministers from his cabinet so as to create a majority for his disengagement plan, Israeli politics have been on a rollercoaster ride that isn't over yet by any means.
There followed the call by Sharon for a referendum of Likud members on the disengagement plan and his pledge to abide by the results of the referendum. When Likud members voted down the disengagement plan, he nevertheless insisted on pursuing it, bringing it to a vote in the Knesset, threatening to fire any ministers who would vote against the plan, and ending up winning the vote and firing one Likud minister and one deputy minister who voted against the plan.
There followed the coalition agreement with Agudat Yisrael, the decision by Shinui to leave the coalition, the coalition agreement with the Labor party and the installation of Shimon Peres in an ill-defined ministerial function, and presto, a new coalition was formed, which is opposed by a number of Likud MKs, but for the time being is supported by the far-left Yahad faction and one of the Arab Knesset factions.
This coalition is probably one of the largest, most cumbersome, and at the same time one of the weakest governments in Israel's history. It may yet become larger still as Sharon tries to co-opt Shas, hoping to give the government a minimum of stability.
Out the window go the long-planned economic reforms and the much advertised reforms of the educational system. Back we go to large hand-outs to ultra-Orthodox institutions, and gone are the plans to put an end to the exemption from military service for tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox youth.
On top of it all we seem to be heading for an upsurge in Palestinian terrorism as the terrorists are out to prove that it is their attacks that are forcing Israel to withdraw. All this, for one and only one reason - to implement the prime minister's disengagement plan, to uproot the settlers in Gush Katif, the northern tip of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
Is it worth it? Will this bloated government succeed in doing the prime minister's bidding? Or will it all just end up as an exercise in futility?
It would take a cross-eyed accountant to draw a balance sheet of the pluses and minuses of the disengagement scheme and come up with a positive bottom line. In the negative column: the cancellation of many of the accomplishments of the previous coalition; involving the IDF in an activity that is politically divisive rather than having it devote all its energy in the continuing fight against Palestinian terrorism; giving Palestinian terrorists the impression that their tactics are succeeding; bringing additional Israeli towns and villages into the range of Qassam rockets; and turning Gaza into an uncontrolled terrorist encampment.
The only item in the positive column: a possible, although not probable, reduction in the IDF's workload after the withdrawal.
But it is not likely that this negative balance sheet will impress the members of the new coalition assembled to uproot the settlers. Their calculations are based on entirely different dimensions. The Labor party sees in the disengagement plan a first step that hopefully will lead to further withdrawals. They back that first step, not because they value it on its own merits, but rather because they believe it will set in motion a series of further withdrawals and uprooting of settlements.
Yahad hopes that these withdrawals will lead Israel back to the 1967 lines; that once the ice is broken, and the IDF is enlisted in uprooting settlements, the process will continue until Israel finds itself back on the 1967 lines.
The Arab faction that supports Sharon's disengagement plan has a similar rationale. Agudat Yisrael is interested in one thing and one thing only, and that is additional resources for its institutions. And if Shas decides to join, it will be for similar reasons. And Sharon - he does not believe in retreating from a plan he has championed.
Although much is made nowadays of the merits of having second thoughts and reversing positions in the light of changing circumstances, it is not likely that the members of the new coalition are going to change their positions on the disengagement plan. It is a coalition that lacks all coherence, and circumstances would have to change drastically for any of its members to decide to change course. That may also happen.
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