If Sharon had a personal diary, he would sit every evening and sum up his day in the immortal words of Luba the supermarket checkout lady: Oy! It's tough.
It took half a year of labor pains to give birth to the plan for unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, including the evacuation of 21 settlements. Most of the public supports his initiative and is even enthusiastic about it, but opposition has sprung up in his party, which owes him its greatest electoral victory ever.
Sharon made history by dint of the fact that he was the first to form a government without the Haredim. Sharon as a man of the settlements and a master of pacts with the black-hatters has clearly veered to the right on the political map. A country that has seen 11,356 of its citizens killed or wounded in acts of terror in the four years of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (according to the calculations of Avi Dichter), deserves to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel.
The militant minority is doing all it can to keep the majority from getting what it wants. It has forced Sharon to seek a broad government that incorporates Labor, Shinui and if it were only possible, that part of the National Religious Party (NRP) he appreciates for its integrity and contribution to turning out highly motivated soldiers.
But as the disengagement plan gets flesh on its bones, Sharon has begun to worry that these NRP members may opt to stay out. His fear that the Likud rebels will set another trap for him at the Likud convention next Wednesday and ruin his hopes for a broader coalition is making him feel insecure. So he has come up with the idea of inviting United Torah Judaism (UTJ) to join his Likud-Labor-Shinui government.
In doing so, he has placed himself in a vise, caught between a militant minority in the territories that wants to wreck the disengagement plan, and an even tinier minority that will return the country to the status quo of last century on matters of religion and state.
Sharon is in a changeable mood these days. Toward his guests he exudes self-confidence in his success and charm beyond compare. But with his close personal friends he shows restlessness and even early signs of depression. Trapped between the exaggerated demands of UTJ and Shinui's threats of walking out, the idea of bringing Shas into the government even came up, although that would certainly send Shinui out the door. When Sharon hauled in a million votes for the Likud, this was not what he was hoping for.
If a Likud-Labor-Shinui government is not shot down at the Likud convention, Sharon will represent nearly 2 million voters. His government will enjoy the support of 78 or so MKs. The actual number of Likudniks voting against the government could be a lot smaller than all the noise would have us believe. Even if 10 MKs bolt, he will have enough of a majority to get the disengagement plan approved by the government and the Knesset.
Under those circumstances, he won't need the five UTJ MKs, who represent a total of 136,000 voters but have the appetite of Amstaffs. The bottom line is that they are not Zionists. The symbols and values of the state mean nothing to them, and don't obligate them. They look to their rabbis and their religious rulings for authority - not the laws of the state. They don't serve in the army for ideological reasons, but they will serve as deputy ministers - a rank that in any case won't give them a say in the government for or against disengagement, or in the vote on withdrawing from settlements in Gaza.
On the other hand, they will have a say over the money. If they get their hands on the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, they will milk the state dry. Every little thing will cost us. They will send the Tal Law and the civil marriage bill to the deep freeze for all eternity, and block the historic process begun by Shinui for a gradual separation of religion and state. MK Ophir Pines was right in saying that we cannot allow ourselves to go back to the dark ages when hundreds of millions of shekels were poured into yeshivas and religious institutions, and the tail wagged the dog.
Sharon will probably have a majority for disengagement, and there are pretty good chances that he will start implementing it. He doesn't need a Haredi party that is interested only in itself and its own needs ferrying us back to the previous millennium. He will be doing us all a favor if he leaves them on the doorstep.
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