If there aren't any stunning surprises, U.S. President George W. Bush's blessings for the disengagement plan will, in the blink of an eye, become the kiss of death for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government.
This time, he will not have suspenders at his disposal in the form of the "seven days of quiet" that served as charm against the dear departed Tenet plan, or in the form of the 14 qualifications that chained the dying road map. After the plan earns American trust, it will be impossible to treat it like the Mitchell plan of blessed memory, which was ostensibly adopted but never won the trust of the government of Israel. The government ministers from the National Union will not be able to represent a government that has voted in favor of evacuating the Jewish settlements from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip. The rabbis of the National Religious Party will not allow the party's wheeler-dealers to serve in a government that has decided to hand over "parts of the land of Israel" to gentiles.
The behavior of the Jewish settlers' lobby is reminiscent of a child who acts wild in class and keeps misbehaving despite all the punishments. During a period of less than 10 years, they have brought about the fall of four prime ministers who dared to try their hand at nonbrutal solutions. During that period, the political configuration allowed them to add new Jewish settlements in the territories but the political and the international reality slapped them in the face again and again. Only three years ago just a small portion of the things Sharon said in his Herzliya speech would have been enough to send both him and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out to the balcony in Zion Square in order to attack the speaker. For more moderate heresies than these, Tzachi Hanegbi (now public security minister) unplugged microphones.
Yitzhak Rabin was denounced as a "traitor" even though on Purim 1994, after the massacre at the Tomb of the Prophets, he did not dare evacuate even the disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane who broke into the archaeological site at Tel Rumeida. Instead, in order to protect the fanatics of the Jewish quarter in Hebron, he imposed a curfew on tens of thousands of inhabitants of the Arab city. Rabin refused to evacuate even a single Jewish settler from the territories without a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. Even Shimon Peres, who replaced him, refrained from giving a boost in advance to the establishment of a Palestinian state. In those days the Palestine Liberation Organization was shunned and hated by the masses of Likud supporters and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was far from the Israeli consensus.
Peres was deposed to the great rejoicing of the Jewish settlers of Ofra, his own handiwork. In his stead they gleefully greeted Benjamin Netanyahu at the head of a right-wing coalition that included the Likud, Tsomet, the National Religious Party and Shas. Netanyahu traveled all the way to the White House to shake Arafat's hand and to give wall-to-wall legitimization for the bruised Oslo agreement. The Yesha (acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which also spells "salvation" in Hebrew) Council also absorbed the Hebron agreement, but bared its talons over the Wye agreement. Netanyahu gave way to Ehud Barak, who went to talks with Arafat equipped with political backing rare in its extent, from Meretz on the left and the NRP on the right.
Barak laid the foundations for the parameters for a peace between Israel and a Palestinian state that would include all of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of the territories of the West Bank and a considerable part of East Jerusalem. The arrogance and the intifada distanced people's hearts from Barak and left no chance for any agreement with Arafat that would put an end to the conflict. In his stead, the Yesha people got the politician who had gone all the way with them from the break-in into Hawara in 1974. And now, three years after their leader settled into the Prime Minister's Bureau, Sharon has revived partition plan B, a station on the way to the 1967 lines. He has given a strictly kosher seal of approval to a Palestinian state and the evacuation of settlements without anything in return, not even a commitment by the Palestinians to lay down their arms.
What will happen after the all-or-nothing lobby topples Sharon? He, like Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak, has not turned from a patriot into a traitor. Like his predecessors, from the Prime Minister's Bureau he apparently began to realize that if he insists on it all, he will end up with nothing. After Sharon is demobilized, it will be NRP leader Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam's turn to take his punishment there.
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