In January 1997, then-minister Benny Begin resigned from the Netanyahu government because he could not accept the decision to sign the Hebron agreement. For those who may have forgotten, the Hebron agreement redefined the span of Israeli and Palestinian control over the Hebron region. It was approved by a 11-7 majority by the government, almost exactly the same margin that approved the road map last week.
For those who may have forgotten, the road map establishes an outline leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders in the interim and the dismantling of settlements established since March 2001, with a permanent status agreement bringing the occupation to an end in its final stage.
In comparison with the ideological sacrifice that the right-wing minister must now make, the Hebron agreement was like a bothersome mosquito, but nevertheless, not one of them has acted as Benny Begin did in his time and quit the government.
Begin was not the only one. In June 2000, ministers from Shas, the National Religious Party and Yisrael b'Aliyah all resigned from Ehud Barak's government, as they simply could not accept his declaration of intent to close a far-reaching agreement with Yasser Arafat at Camp David.
What was obvious and self-explanatory to Natan Sharansky three years ago, was no longer valid in his opinion last week. What roused then-housing minister Yitzhak Levy does not move his successor, Effi Eitam. Eli Yishai's and Shlomo Benizri's commitments to a continued Israeli hold on the territories are apparently stronger than those of Uzi Landau's and Benny Elon's.
The Sharon government coalition partners' reaction to the approval of the road map is worthy of scrutiny - it possibly even teaches us something important about the real power of the American political initiative to alter Israeli positions, or the status of ideology in Israeli politics, and perhaps about the ease with which the party leaders mock the public.
One would think approval of the road map would have resulted in serious outrage in the coalition, if not the fall of the Sharon government. If words have any meaning, if there is any point to the bargaining that preceded the composition of the coalition agreement, the Likud, National Union and National Religious Party ministers should have stood up and announced they are not prepared to remain in the government.
Parties that are signatories to the basic policy lines pledging the government will protect the "security, historical and national" interests of Israel, cannot continue to sit in a government whose leader declares that the time has come to end the occupation. Parties who have signed on the article declaring the government "will meet and worry about the constant needs of the settlements" (beyond the Green Line) cannot agree to those articles of the road map that freeze settlement activity - including natural growth.
A party that added an appendix to the coalition agreement declaring it will do all it can to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, finds itself faced with a blatant disparity when it accepts the approval of the road map, which clearly states that its goal is the establishment of a Palestinian state within six months.
The fact that all Likud ministers, along with those from the National Union and the National Religious Party have apathetically accepted the road map speaks volumes. It shows they do not seriously believe this initiative will amount to anything, or they do not believe Ariel Sharon when he announces a revolution in his attitude toward the Palestinians, or perhaps there is some sort of covert deal between them that the approval of the road map is purely a tactical step, or maybe they suffer from a rather serious tendency to delude themselves.
In order to lead the country to peace, we need leaders who embrace an outlook that stresses ending the occupation. Sharon has declared this goal and maybe believes it, or not. But Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat, Avigdor Lieberman and Zevulun Orlev are not even giving the lip service to this push for peace that Sharon has paid. It will not be this coalition that implements the spirit and the letter of the road map.
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