"Ladies and gentlemen," the supermarket manager announces, "there's a special in the meat department. For the next four hours, the price of goose is reduced." "Ladies and gentlemen," announces the prime minister, "here's a disengagement plan at unprecedented prices: no right of return, with border corrections, with American support. Don't miss it."
There are shoppers who hurry to the meat department, and citizens who jump at the bargain offered by the prime minister. Not everyone. The Likud members prove over and over they are not ready to buy peace, and certainly not one on sale. The basic meaning, the unequivocal significance of the results of the vote at the Likud convention on Thursday is that the party's membership and its elected representatives do not support the prime minister's peace initiative. And to that extent, it does not matter if the bloc of voters controlled by Silvan Shalom cast its vote only to serve the foreign minister's personal interests.
Nor does it matter that another large bloc of voters, which dances to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tune, voted according to the instructions meant to serve the finance minister's political needs. Nor does it matter that the bloc led by Moshe Feiglin is not made of traditional Likud activists. Nor does it even matter that the ideological group led by
Minister Uzi Landau is a minority in the central committee. It's not even relevant that among the prime minister's supporters there are people with whom it is an embarrassment to be seen in public, just as the shamefully notorious manner in which the central committee was elected is irrelevant.
All that matters is the final result: the ruling party says over and over to its leader that it does not want the disengagement plan and that it does not support any move meant to bring the state closer to peace with the Palestinians. It expressed this position in the response of most of its ministers and MKs to the prime minister's initiative. It repeats it in a poll taken of the membership and it reaffirmed its rejectionism last week in the convention.
Sharon is deluding himself, or deliberating misleading the public when he announces he is determined to press ahead with the execution of his plan, despite his party's position. He cannot do it. The prime minister needs the Likud's support to pass what he wants through the government and the Knesset.
It is impossible to grab peace; it can only be achieved after hearts are won over. The Likud is making clear that as far as it is concerned the conditions have not yet emerged for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be moved from a track of bloodshed to a track of peace. The Likud is announcing it prefers the status quo. That is the bottom line of its message after four years of conflict and 1,000 casualties on the Israeli side alone, and that is the future it has planned for the country in the coming years.
The public is invited to make its impressions of what the Likud has to offer and to draw its conclusions. It is impossible to achieve peace through political machinations: not by firing ministers opposed to disengagement before the decisive vote in the government, and not by coming up with proposed resolutions meant to neutralize the rejectionism of a majority of the Likud central committee members. The decision - in the ruling party, the government and Knesset - must be made through proper procedures, granting it a legitimacy that is unassailable by its opponents, denying them an excuse to rebel against it.
Sharon is making a mistake if he tries to ignore the decision of the central committee and looks for political combinations with which he can impose his will on his party. The proper way to win political support for his initiative is to enlist popular support for it, and to encourage that support to express itself.
If indeed the vast majority of the public wants to get out of Gaza and the northern West Bank, that position should be pressing the members of the Likud central committee and their representatives in the Knesset, the way public opposition to the presence in southern Lebanon preceded the decision to quit. Peace is not a one-time offer at the supermarket; peace is a basic commodity and its vitality and necessity should be recognized, and its price known.
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