Analysis The Speech of His Life

In a blue-striped tie, his eyes having difficulty getting accustomed to the teleprompter, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday recorded his address to the nation about the disengagement plan.

It was the speech of his life, the decisive evening in his turbulent career, the blast off to a complex operation he had planned and organized for two years. But even at such a moment, Sharon had difficulty producing inspiring rhetoric. Only toward the end he loosened up a little and sounded like the familiar Arik.

He wanted to convey a number of messages. His disillusionment over the hope that Israel could hold onto Netzarim and Kfar Darom "forever," and the recognition of "changing reality" that drove him to the disengagement. He had chosen a unilateral move because of the Palestinians' obstinacy. He demanded that the Palestinians fight terror as a condition to resuming negotiations, and threatened a "harsher-than-ever" retaliation to terror attacks.

Sharon thanked the evacuated settlers for their contribution to security, and expressed support for the soldiers and policemen he had sent to evacuate them. He spoke of yearning for inner unity and mutual respect rather than "hostility among brethren" and hatred. There was also a reminder of the coming elections.

Reuven Adler, Sharon's good friend and political strategist, says that hope is more important to the Israeli voters than security, peace and corruption issues. The candidate who gives the public hope will win the elections. Sharon, who listens to advice, promised at the end of his speech: "We are embarking on a new road, which has quite a few risks, but also has a light of hope for all of us."

On Channel Two, Sharon's rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned of the terrorism expected after the pullout, and presented his opposing platform: A demand for reciprocity and keeping security matters in Israel's hands, adding "Don't give them a port."

Sharon's aides commented that Netanyahu voted for the disengagement four times, and was partner to the decision to build the port in February.

Sharon displayed understanding for the suffering of the Palestinians crowded in the refugee camps in Gaza "in greenhouses of growing hatred." His statements were reminiscent of Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan's eulogy to Ro'i Rotberg, the security officer of Kibbutz Nahal Oz who was murdered in 1956 in a field bordering the Gaza Strip.

"How can we complain of their intense hatred of us?" Dayan said. "For eight years now, they have been sitting in the refugee camps of Gaza, while before their very eyes we are expropriating their lands and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled... Let us not flinch from seeing the animosity inflaming and filling the lives of hundreds of thousands Arabs living around us... That is the bane of our generation."

At that time, Sharon was commander of the paratroopers who departed to carry out retaliations in the Gaza Strip, and a key figure in the attack army that Dayan had formed. There is no doubt that he is familiar with his former commander's speech, and perhaps he looked at it again before his appearance yesterday.