Napoleons One and All

On the eve of the Six-Day War, a national unity government was established overnight, without squaring accounts or squabbling over portfolios. Today the town is on fire, but our politicians and their egos have all the time in the world to play Napoleon.

Anyone who thought that the link between money and political power is the worst thing that can happen to us should start worrying about the link between ego and political power. Unlike Don Corleone's classic quip that "it's not personal," even when bumping off a member of the family, in our political milieu, everything is personal. Our politicians enjoy media exposure 24 hours a day. Radio, television and newspapers are at their beck and call. But reflected in the endless tide of verbiage is an egocentric battle for political power that has soared to heights (or should we say, lows) this country has never known.

Next month, the Al-Aqsa Intifada will be marking its fourth anniversary, with a thousand of our dead interred in cemeteries around the country and a tiny glimmer of light peering through the gloom on the horizon, in the form of the Gaza Strip evacuation plan. And what are our politicians preoccupied with? With their personal standing, of course. With their jobs and their prestige. With their wheeling and dealing in a bid to bolster their power in return for supporting disengagement.

Without a majority in the Likud for carrying out his plan, Sharon wants to bring Labor into the coalition for one reason: to get his plan implemented. You would think Labor might join an ad hoc government, doing without portfolios, for the sake of that one cause. You would think it might show the kind of nobility displayed by Gahal, when it joined the Eshkol administration in 1967, sans portfolios, sans ultimatums, for the sole purpose of presenting a united front during the Six-Day War.

But Peres and his buddies are dying to join the government, and not just to push the plan through. They want the benefits that come with it. Peres says he'll join only if Silvan Shalom is relieved of his duties as foreign minister. When Shalom made a fuss at the idea that he give up this plum job, people sneered. "What's the matter?" they said. "Were you born foreign minister?" Nobody has thought to say: "Hey, since when does the Foreign Ministry have Shimon Peres's name on it?"

As the prime minister's stand-in, Peres doesn't need a portfolio. In any case, he'll only be doing what Sharon, an egotist in his own right, wants and decides. As these lines go to print, Shalom may throw in the towel and let go of the Foreign Ministry, but not without jotting in his notepad: "I won't be foreign minister, but Sharon won't be prime minister."

Sharon doesn't want to be alone with Labor and Shinui. He's asking United Torah Judaism (UTJ) to come aboard, too. Shinui would be betraying its election promise not to serve in a government with the ultra-Orthodox, and that requires some explaining. Poraz allegedly told Sharon: "If UTJ is the Vaseline you need to ease Labor's penetration into the government, I'll help you." A party in the role of national Vaseline. Now that's a new one.

Lapid, on the other hand, has gone back to the "Tommy knows best" approach he used on the TV talk show Popolitika. "I invented the slogan `no Haredim,' so if anyone has the moral right to bend it, I do. You can't get into power on the strength of one slogan." Too bad he didn't say that before the elections. Lapid compared himself to de Gaulle, Nixon and Begin. For a minute, I wondered how he skipped Churchill. But leave it to the Lapid ego. Toward the end of his remarks, he spoke about the "blood, sweat and tears" demanded by disengagement. It was Yosef Tommy Churchill at his best.

While the parties fight over portfolios and engage in a tug of war over who's more worthy and who should get what, three of our national leaders are facing trouble at home. Boasting a combined age of 229 - seven times older than the new prime minister of the Czech Republic, who is all of 35 - Sharon, Peres and Lapid suffer from the same problem: None of them enjoy the full support of their parties.

So how are they dealing with it? With threats, of course. What else did you think? Sharon reminded his MKs that they were elected thanks to him. If he has to call early elections, many of them will find themselves on the Knesset doorstep. Lapid is playing Louis XIV: "Shinui c'est moi." If Shinui sits in the government with the Haredim, it will end up like the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC). When that happens, he can also quote Louis XV: "Apres moi le deluge." Peres hasn't given up yet on his mission as national savior and peacemaker. For the moment, though, he is a pawn in Sharon's hands.

On the eve of the Six-Day War, a national unity government was established overnight, without squaring petty accounts or squabbling over portfolios. Today the town is going up in flames, but our politicians and their egos have all the time in the world to play Napoleon.