The irritable stance assumed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at last week's cabinet session is reminiscent of the neighborhood bully who asks his friends to hold him back to prevent him from tearing into his rival.

Sharon returned from his vacation filled with anger at the obstacles to carrying out the disengagement plan that have been put in his path. Instead of being patient and finding sophisticated ways to bypass them, he is unleashing his anger by spreading hollow threats and hurling insults at ministers and senior civil servants. All this is accomplishing is a further exacerbation of the murky atmosphere he has created around him.

Sharon came to the cabinet and announced that he intends to carry out the withdrawal from Gaza and the evacuation it involves in one fell swoop. This was declared in response to the demand of the defense minister, who claimed that staggering the evacuation would greatly complicate the process. After the meeting, one of the ministers remembered a quip attributed to finance minister Pinhas Sapir, who was once asked why he objected to shortening the work week by one day. He replied that first he'd like to see anybody here work one day a week.

This association was made apropos Shaul Mofaz: Before he asks to evacuate the entire Gaza Strip in one day, let's see him evacuate a single illegal outpost in one go.

At any rate, Sharon's support of Mofaz's demand contradicted the cabinet's decision of June 6, which explicitly stated that before carrying out the disengagement plan, the cabinet would convene and decide whether to evacuate settlements and if so, which ones to evacuate and at what pace "considering the circumstances at the time." The cabinet also resolved, as Sharon himself proposed, to implement the evacuation in four stages, each of which would be brought separately to the cabinet's approval.

Sharon cannot nullify the cabinet's decisions, just as he may not ignore his party members' decision against the disengagement plan and the Likud central committee's refusal to enable him to reshuffle the coalition so that he can pass any necessary decisions in the cabinet and Knesset. It would also be completely improper if he executed his intention, as he stated on Friday in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, to ask the Knesset, on its return from recess, to support his political declarations, into which he would insert a clause stating that the Knesset approves of the cabinet's decision regarding the disengagement. Sharon explained that this would spare him from having to present the issue for a separate and special debate in the Knesset, to obtain its approval.

Sharon cannot evacuate the Gaza Strip with political ploys. It is to be a move, if implemented, with far-reaching implications. It is to mark a turning point in the history of the state and if Sharon carries it out, he will go down in history as the one who started to redeem the state from the curse of the occupation, which has been eating away at its strength and corrupting its image for 37 years. Such a move cannot be made casually: It is a national decision in which all of society must take part, and the representative institutions of society must express its will.

The procedures of ratifying and executing the disengagement plan must be carried out properly not only because of the weight of the matter at stake, and not merely because of the required commitment to the democratic rules of the game, but because of the vital necessity of giving this move maximum legitimacy. When Sharon tries to be clever and bypass the acceptable procedures, in a bid to force his will on the Likud, the cabinet and the Knesset, he is giving his opponents explosives with which they will blow his initiative sky high.

The right way to implement the disengagement plan is to enlist broad popular support, which would isolate its opponents and exert pressure on the political system to adjust its positions to the public's will.