Analysis: PM at Labor's mercy over disengagement
Should Sharon add Labor, he may have to exchange Shinui for Shas so Likud members will not have so bitter a pill to swallow.
According to a Sharon family legend, Omri, the prime minister's son, likes to tease his father on the eve of a political struggle: "Do you prefer to enjoy yourself or to win?"
If this is so, the prime minister must have enjoyed himself Monday. Enjoyed himself a great deal. Because he certainly did not win. He received a resounding slap in the face, the type he has become used to from the Likud central committee. Perhaps the Sharon family should consider giving up its enjoyment and start winning for a change?
Once again it became obvious that Sharon's coalition can pass anything in the Knesset - except the disengagement plan. Even if it is just mentioned in passing, as a standard announcement, only half festively, at the opening of the 16th Knesset's winter session. Once again it was clear that Sharon needs the Labor party in order to get the disengagement through.
If Sharon had hoped that, at a moment of truth - and this was some sort of moment of truth - the "rebels" in his faction who entered the House on his back would stand up and spare him the humiliation, he discovered this would not happen. They have their own agenda which differs from his and never the twain shall meet.
In two weeks, when the real, real moment of truth arrives - the vote on disengagement - Sharon will find himself at the mercy of Shimon Peres and his Labor cronies. Peres, after a passing show of pugnacity in an interview and a speech in the plenum, has returned to his former being.
He wanted to prevent Sharon's downfall but most of his faction members differed. They were led by the former national unity government ministers - Ben-Eliezer, Sneh, Vilnai, Itzik.
MK Eitan Cabel said he had thought they should abstain after Sharon's speech, but after hearing Peres' speech, it was clear to him they should vote against. "Oy," mumbled Peres, at the top of the table. "I was too successful."
Now that there are no longer two ways about it, and everything is crystal clear, Sharon has only two options - to go to the president and ask to dissolve the Knesset, or to change the composition of his coalition.
But there is a third option. This is the one that Meir Sheetrit who coordinates the government's ties with the Knesset, is pressing Sharon to accept - to pass the disengagement plan with the votes of the left and to continue with the current coalition as if nothing happened.
Those close to Sharon Monday night were pressing for the second option. Before the vote, Sharon threatened the rebels that, if he lost, he would resume negotiations with the Labor party, despite the handcuffs clamped on him by the Likud convention.
If he chooses this path, he may have to go a step further and exchange Shinui for Shas so that the Likud members will not have so bitter a pill to swallow. If this is the case, he will not have been the only loser Monday night.
If Labor joins, both Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom could pay the price. It is possible, however, that Peres will forgo the foreign ministry portfolio to pave the way for coalition talks and thwart Ehud Barak's attempts to return to office.
Shalom, who has the most political sense in the Likud, saw the danger and did his best to prevent Sharon's downfall. Netanyahu made no effort at all. One might have gained the impression - God forbid - that he was hoping for Sharon's defeat.