Those of you still racking your brains to figure out the message in the prime minister's so-called "speech to the nation" can take it easy. The gist of it can be summed up in five words - not now and not me.
Sharon's speech was neither mountain nor molehill. It's not that he doesn't understand what's expected of him. Not that he doesn't see the trouble he caused with his own hands by covering the West Bank with settlements designed to create an irreversible situation. His problem is that today, for the first time, he is finding out that there are limits to his power.
Sharon will not be the one who draws Israel's permanent borders. If, until now, we were under the illusion that he who buildth up is also he who will knocketh down, Sharon has made it clear to his people in this word-laundering speech of his that all he is capable of doing is buying time with unilateral action. He will not be able to make the painful decisions expected of him as a leader.
He will not be another Ben-Gurion, who proclaimed the Third Kingdom of Israel in 1956 and then withdrew in one fell swoop from the whole of the Sinai peninsula. Neither will he be another Begin, who in return for a peace treaty gave up all of Sinai and its settlements.
Sharon did not sketch any historic vision of Israel with permanent borders because he has no intention of ever reaching that point during his term of office. For a speech like that you don't win the Nobel Peace Prize. You don't even get an Oscar.
Sharon's only objective, and promise to himself, is to gain another year - half a year until the ultimatum runs out and his plans for unilateral action start rolling, and another half a year while President Bush is busy getting re-elected. His remark "We're not going to wait forever, by George!" sounded like a Freudian slip, if you ask me.
This speech, with its "movement without moving" theme, didn't make Bush very happy if what he said afterward is any indication. Speeches are nice, observed the president, but they're just words. I'm waiting for actions.
Sharon, once flattered with the nickname "Bulldozer," is having engine trouble lately. Especially when it comes to giving up the territories and saying goodbye to settlements. On June 4, he festively announced at Aqaba that "as a law-abiding country, we will begin evacuating unauthorized outposts immediately." As we all know, not much has happened since then. Before the Herzliya Conference, a senior official told a gathering of insiders that 14 unauthorized outposts would be dismantled around Hanukkah time, including Migron with its 40 families.
But as the day grew nearer and the leaders of the settlers' movement decided not to leave without a fuss, "complicated legal problems" connected to ownership of the land on which Migron is sitting suddenly cropped up, and all the plans that seemed so certain were postponed until further notice.
Sudden postponements of this type have occurred over and over. Just as the government debate is about to convene, Sharon drops a hint and instead of outposts being excised, the subject is excised from the agenda. The man just can't do it. If there's anything that gets the goat of Bush the father and Bush the son, it's being taken for a ride. That's what led to the break with Arafat, and also with Yitzhak Shamir.
Sharon has not presented any kind of plan. He has no schedule for moving ahead on the road map. Bush, say those in the know, is not pleased with Sharon's threat of unilateral action or his fence-building. He is worried that a hot potato may fall into his lap just in time for elections. Sharon gave American an IOU he promised to repay. In the meantime, his credibility clock is ticking.
"In peace as in war, one needs the broadest possible consensus," Sharon said at the Herzliya Conference. Today, there is no question that he has more of a consensus for peace than for war. A speech to that effect that would have gone down in history if it had only included an outright denunciation of a small bunch of extremists trying to forcefully and violently impose its will on the majority and drag the country into a civil war.
With the country falling apart in his hands; with pilots and reservists from elite commando units, the creme de la creme of the Israel Defense Forces, losing their motivation to fight for a goal dictated by the minority, Sharon still can't free himself from the mentality of stalling and putting off painful decisions. Ariel Sharon may be a great soldier, but as a leader, his vision never rises above lawn level.
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