As in every tough negotiation, attempts to work out a compromise continue to the last possible minute, be it at the end of a long night or just as the Sabbath begins. The effort to bridge the gap between the egos of Arik and Bibi will end in a photo-finish on Friday. But if there is to be another compromise of the prime minister's mangled plan, it will also finish that plan: what had been a red flag to disengagement opponents and to Netanyahu will become just a limp rag.
As of last night, Sharon continued to dig in against any possible erosion of what remains of his plan. He looked like Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" - parts I and II - waving the sword every which way, fencing with rivals on all sides. This is the only proper course left to the exhausted leader, who has made so many mistakes, to push through the only plan he has offered his people and the Americans. Even his opponents on the left and the center were forcibly swept up into supporting his initiative. And ironically enough, an impressive majority is backing him up.
While Sharon is fighting for his political life, he has, based on a Maariv poll from yesterday (and one senses, among armchair analysts anywhere) a huge majority. The breakdown is 51 percent to 31 percent among Likud voters, and of course an even higher support among the general population. If elections were held now, he would still beat Peres hands down.
Added to this massive support are the voices of Israel's military leaders - those who had let it be known, covertly or openly, that disengagement would not avert terror. This week, the head of Military Intelligence led the procession behind the Pied Piper of Sycamore Ranch, and explained that international pressure on America, due to its involvement in Iraq, could cause Washington to pay in kind by putting pressure on Israel. All of the conditions seem, therefore, to augur an impending bulldozer maneuver, in which Sharon would trample his opponents (and the compromises of Tommy Lapid) in a no-holds-barred charge. Except that he also feels a responsibility toward the party whose ministers and activists, who follow the results of the members' referendum to the letter, are threatening party unity. He has a fear of defeat: his boisterous assertions that he will not give in sound like so much whistling in the dark.
These troubles of Sharon's needn't be of interest to the Israeli majority. If he insists on having his way and succeeds - all the better. If he insists but then fails - well, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. The well-known threat is that if Sharon falls, we'll end up with Netanyahu. This should not frighten us, as Menachem Begin used to say, in prolonged syllables and raspy voice. We'll see if the Likud, and in its wake the street, can afford to opt for Netanyahu over Sharon. Netanyahu offers them - in complete contrast to his political tradition - a war of attrition with the U.S. and the EU, and the ruin of all of the handsome - but reversible - achievements he succeeded in winning for the Israeli economy.
If Sharon is on the brink of failure, with his back to the wall, it can be assumed he will throw out the National Union ministers by Sunday, and invite into his coalition Peres, who has already bitten his nails down to the quick.
But the political song doesn't end there. It has only begun. Because the concern of the Israeli patriot now should not be what will happen to the Likud and its strife-torn leaders. The genuine concern is whether, after he triumphs, Sharon will actually carry out the disengagement. This crucial matter has been obscured as the storm raged with opponents of the plan. The reason to support the plan, even among the left, is to test Sharon's mettle when his hands are no longer tied: let's see him do it now. Let's see if and when he uproots a settlement. And after he - maybe - carries out this minimal demonstrative act, we'll see if and when he continues.
We have a very problematic history with the prime minister. It wouldn't be at all out of character for him to kick out the far right when left without a choice, seduce Labor into the coalition with big promises - and then proceed to drag his feet.
If only for the purpose of this important act of clarification, Sharon should be supported now, to remove any possible pretext or excuse not to act. And then see if the support, which among many is lent with gnashed teeth, has yielded results or merely paved the way to one more Sharonism, to one more deception.
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