The brief images shown last night on television in which Ariel Sharon was seen signing the evacuation orders that go into effect in five months were everything but historic. In the United States, when the president signs into law a bill that has taken much effort, a dramatic stage is set, in the Oval Office or in the Rose Garden, with special pens and many guests.
With us, it's somehow always improvised: The prime minister is seen in profile, scribbling his name; the defense minister is across from him, not exactly sitting, not exactly standing; the military liaison officer sits on a low chair, his eyes looking tired; a young aide, leaning against the wall, wonders when he can go home for the night. It all made one feel like asking: Is this why the entire country has been dragged from apocalypse now to peace now, between civil war to a New Middle East, between Danny Naveh's overwrought dramas to Dalia Itzik's euphoric happiness?
The quiet yesterday in the government complex, outside the Knesset, at the junctions and in the settlements, was misleading, of course. An illusion of quiet. The quiet after the political storm, before the real storm.
Sharon knows it and it could be seen on him last night when he spoke to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He spoke about the pain in his heart, his difficulty in uprooting people who regarded him as a father, a commander, a teacher, a leader. Some will believe him and others, suspicious of everything he does, will only call it a change in tactics - a show of generosity by the victor, who speaks kindly but holds the reigns tight.
Sharon said he has never made such a difficult decision. But what about sending thousands of soldiers into war, into battle, into dangerous special operations, as an officer, a defense minister and prime minister? Is that really easier than moving citizens out of their homes for the sake of peace?
In his four years as prime minister, Sharon has lost a lot of the glory he had for years as a bulldozer capable of moving mountains. But with disengagement, and the political battle it took, Sharon proved he is still Arik, with the same single-minded focus on his goal as if nothing else exists, when all who are not with him are against him.
Across the cabinet table yesterday, Sharon could see the whites of Benjamin Netanyahu's eyes. Sharon has turned to the center-left; Bibi has turned right. And after the disengagement, something will have to change, on the political map as well as the geographic map. Deep inside, Netanyahu is probably happy about the vote yesterday. If he succeeds Sharon, Gaza won't be his problem.
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