With the execution of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Ariel Sharon killed two birds with a single shot. Firstly, he showed everyone that he will not flee Gaza before settling all accounts with Hamas, no matter the cost. And secondly, he put paid to his opponents' intimidation campaign, "A vote for [the disengagement] is a vote for Peres." Within an hour of Uzi Landau's warning that had Shimon Peres been in the government, Rantisi would still be alive, the opposition leader hastily put the Likud members at ease and publicly announced his support for the assassination of the day.
It wasn't a spin designed to pave the way for the Labor party's U-turn into the Sharon government. It was merely a reminder of days gone by, but not so long ago, when then Labor chairman and defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer orchestrated the liquidation policy and then foreign minister Peres explained it so well around the world. It was nothing but another warning sign that the main opposition party is polishing up the doormat role it fulfilled so successfully up until less than two years ago.
Sharon doesn't even take the trouble to pretend that he has any intentions of deviating from the habit of treating Labor's leaders like doormats. Even before Labor discussed the possibility of joining the government, Sharon announced from the Knesset podium that if the National Union and National Religious Party pull out, he will form a new government "the very next day."
Sharon's consideration for the mood among Likud members, and certainly in the U.S. administration, far outstrips his consideration for the members of Labor's Knesset faction who will be called on to vote for the finished product. Benjamin Netanyahu got a commitment with regard to the fence; Tzipi Livni's mind was put at rest with regard to the right of return; and Limor Livnat eked out a promise to strengthen the settlement blocs.
When it comes to the Labor Party, however, Meni Mazuz remains, for the meantime, the only obstacle between Peres, Haim Ramon, Dalia Itzik and Dr. Ephraim Sneh and the cabinet table. Wholesale assassinations, cruel fences and invasive outposts didn't trouble their rest while in the coalition, and haven't awakened them from their coma while in the opposition.
Bringing Labor into the government will complete Sharon's plan to alienate the party from its voters. The support of one of the "Oslo architects" for a unilateral step that is designed - as Sharon himself said to The New York Times - to undermine negotiations with the Palestinians about plans along the lines of the Geneva initiative will turn Labor into a neglected branch of the Likud.
Sharon is trapping Labor in the burial shrouds it sewed for itself with the latest decision of its political committee in favor of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. If Labor allows the Sharon government to fall in the wake of a pullout by the right-wing parties, the Likud will "expose the nakedness" of Labor and turn the Knesset elections into a referendum on the populist disengagement plan. Even Meretz will have a hard time explaining to its voters why it opposed withdrawing the Israel Defense Forces from the valley of death of Gaza and the important precedent of the evacuation of settlements by the Likud.
However, if the Labor hacks replace their eagerness for power with backbone, they will be able to turn the unilateral disengagement initiative from a plan for perpetuating the occupation in most of the West Bank into a move that is laid out in the party's manifesto - an initial step toward a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 lines.
The resignation of the extreme right-wing parties and Shinui's refusal (thus far?) to bring Shas into the government will boost Labor's bargaining power, even to the point of being able to condition its support of the government on an accelerated timetable both for the evacuation of the settlements and for the start of intensive negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in keeping with Sharon's undertaking in accepting the road map. A Likud rejection of these terms would prove that the disengagement plan is nothing more than a plan to kill off peace with the Palestinians and put paid to the Israeli peace camp.
And then the moment would come for the Labor leaders to shed their doormat status and expose Sharon's nakedness.
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