The person I felt sorriest for when Barak grabbed the mike from Moshe Shahal was the Shin Bet security guard who was next to Barak on the podium. What would he have done if Shahal had forcefully resisted the abduction? Socked him? Wrestled him to the floor and snapped handcuffs on his wrists? No matter how you look at it, it was a pretty embarrassing scene.
Barak's claim that they're hijacking his party is ridiculous when you consider that since he lost the elections he hasn't taken the slightest interest in it. His wailing about being set up also raises an eyebrow or two. Isn't that what politicos do to get ahead or survive? He already started out on the wrong foot by not preparing himself politically in keeping with a principle that also applies to politics: "By stratagem make war." What will he do next? Come to the party convention with a cudgel?
This Barak business is only a tiny cog in the government instability that hovers over this country. In Israel's 56 years of existence, there have been 30 governments, and only two of them have completed their terms. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said in a closed forum this week that this instability could suck the country into such a maelstrom that the disengagement plan might never be implemented. He shot barbs at the politicos who set their personal ambitions above the interests of the state and voiced his concern that all the craziness could harm our ability to face the challenges arising since Arafat's demise - an event that cries out for a shift in Israeli policy.
We are in this current mess because a bunch of political activists - how many are they? 500? 1,000? 2,000? - is dictating the national agenda. What we are looking at is a handful of smart-aleck politicos versus a country of 6 million people who don't want to be their pawns. What right do they have to drag us into a frenzy of elections and a fifth year of war? Hasn't enough blood been spilled already?
Sharon is doing just the opposite of what the far right expected of him. He is trying to stop the cycle of bloodshed and reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The disengagement won't be unilateral anymore. There will be someone to whom Gaza can be handed over. It may not be the start of a beautiful friendship, but it could bring us closer to an accord.
Sharon's problem is losing control of his party to extremists who are trying to stop him from any precedent-setting evacuation of settlements and ruining his chances of bringing Labor into a unity government. Some are Knesset members, and some are members of the cabinet. But they are acting against the will of 65 percent of the Likud electorate, who want Sharon as their leader, and 75 percent of the public, who want disengagement. This is a battle of politicos versus the people and the considerations of the state.
Shinui has no socioeconomic achievements to its name, and has done nothing revolutionary in the Interior Ministry or the Justice Ministry. Keeping the religious parties out of the government was a one-time ploy that grabbed the attention of the secular public - not a national goal for all eternity. Instead of making it easier for Sharon to form a unity government, Yosef Lapid, full of himself, never tiring of his old antics from "Popolitika," voted against the budget over a sum of money that even Netanyahu says is peanuts. But this vote of his is not going to topple the government. At most, the religious parties will thank him for bringing them back in.
Firing the ministers of Shinui sends a clear message about who is boss to the Likud activists trying to undermine Sharon. It is a calculated strategic move on Sharon's part - a way of extricating himself from his current bind. Inviting the religious parties to join the government will get the Likud to withdraw its opposition to a unity government with Labor. Someone in Sharon's close circle even described it as a "lab-controlled Big Bang." As long as there aren't 61 votes in favor of sending the government home, instead of the elections posing a threat to Sharon, he will wave them around as a weapon to silence his Likud opponents. Let's see how many of them will be sitting in the Knesset next time around.
Sharon is the one who will decide when the country goes to the polls, and that means not before disengagement is complete at the end of 2005. Sharon's determination to carry out this historic initiative, and the goal he has set himself of putting his house in order, deserve support. A handful of politicos cannot be allowed to drive this country up a wall.
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