If Ariel Sharon plunged into depression Monday night after failing yet again to appoint his confidants as ministers, he did not show it. His aides reported he was in good, even fine spirits.
His failure to appoint Roni Bar-On and Ze'ev Boim was the kind that in the past he managed to turn into a triumph. He did not compromise or give in. He fought bravely to Boim and Bar-On's last drop of blood. Monday after the vote, when the two entered his bureau with their heads hung low, he promised them they would be ministers before this term ends. He meant it. They will be ministers, but apparently only in an interim goverment, set up after the Knesset is dispersed, and will serve until a new cabinet is formed. A matter of four, five months.
Even if this is all the time these two get as ministers, they would be referred to from then on as "the former ministers." The question is, when will Sharon be fed up with the disgraceful failures, the scrambling around, the little humiliations? When will the rebels go too far, when will this troubled, frustrated, embroiled, non-functional parcel called the Likud faction crumble completely? The rebels' vote against the appointments shattered the remaining rules of the game in the Likud. From now on, it is only a question of time until the next botch-up.
Landau Monday outlined his position for when the budget is brought to the Knesset for first reading. He will want to discuss every step before he agres to it, including the budget for the evacuees, building in settlement blocs, etc.
If this is Landau's line, the other rebels, including Netanyahu, won't be able to afford to be more moderate. This means Sharon will not have a majority for the budget, unless he enters into exhausting negotiations with parts of his faction. If it weren't Sharon, he would have summoned himself this morning to a meeting with President Katsav and asked him to disperse the Knesset.
But Sharon is in no hurry. He seems to have all the reasons to hasten toward elections. The polls predict he will emerge victorious, and his rivals never looked worse in the public's eyes. But Monday night he chose to wait. He hasn't decided yet whether to run again in the Likud with a similar list or strike out on his own.
The rebels yesterday celebrated their victory over Sharon, but the public received further proof that the Likud is incapable of running a state. Their goal is to drive Sharon out of the Likud, before he drives them out. Only one of them, two on a good day, are doing it for ideology. For all the rest it's personal.
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