Next, the Outposts

The law enforcement authorities do not cease to deal with criminals during election periods; and the settlers' construction offenses should not be the exception to the rule.

The news conference Ariel Sharon called to mark the establishment of Kadima failed to paint a clear picture of the party's political path. The prevailing assumption is that the Likud's split into rightists and moderates would not have occurred were Sharon not planning to evacuate additional West Bank settlements. But this assumption is not a natural one, and Sharon's forgiving approach to the outposts is proof of this.

For the potential voters of the new party to believe that an end to the occupation is a central clause in its platform, vague talk about the road map will not suffice. Until now, Sharon has failed to implement even the peace plan's first clause, under which he is required to immediately evacuate all the illegal outposts. Making good on this commitment, which was given to U.S. President George Bush, was postponed until after the disengagement. Now, after the excuses have run out, the evasive stage has begun. Shaul Mofaz, who has been entrusted with putting the evacuation into practice, needs the support of the settlers in order to be elected Likud leader by the party's central committee; as a result, it is unlikely he will go through with it.

But Sharon must not lend his hand to another postponement. He is still the prime minister, and he must carry out without delay the evacuation to which he committed. The argument that the representative of the State Prosecutor's Office voiced this week to the High Court of Justice - that the issue is a political one and should be put off until after the elections - is shameful. The law enforcement authorities do not cease to deal with criminals during election periods; and the settlers' construction offenses should not be the exception to the rule. If the government under Sharon is incapable of evacuating 17 homes at the Amona outpost, for which demolition orders have already been issued, it is doubtful that Sharon will be able to implement any evacuation in the West Bank in the future.

Almost a year has passed since Sharon received the Sasson Report on construction in the outposts - a report the government adopted and promised to implement. In the field, meanwhile, permanent homes have sprung up to replace the mobile structures, and access roads have been paved.

In response to a Peace Now petition against the ongoing illegal construction at the Yovel and Haresha outposts, the state argued that the issue was a "political" one, and requested that the court refrain from intervening. In the petition concerning the Amona outpost, the defense minister claimed that he had plans to demolish the structures at the beginning of January, "unless the security situation does not allow this." This excuse failed to convince Justice Ayala Procaccia, who asked the state to furnish the "security-oriented grounds" so that she could review them.

For years, the state collaborated in the theft of land and illegal construction in the territories, and government ministries generously funded the ongoing criminal behavior that served the right's ideology. If Ariel Sharon has really changed his spots, he must stop using the old excuses to avoid the called-for evacuation. If the outposts are not evacuated during the course of his current term in office as prime minister; if the full force of the law is not brought to bear on Sharon and the defense minister, who is trying to accumulate a momentary political gain; if the justice minister, who has joined Sharon's new party, stands idly by, it is unlikely that it will be possible to convince the voters that Sharon really does intend to embark on a new path.