The Erez junction terrorist attack and the boos that greeted Sharon at the Likud convention after the euphoria of the Aqaba ceremony were predictable. It was as if extremists on both sides were working in coordination: We'll embarrass our prime minister and you embarrass yours. That way we can shoot down the road map and manacle the leadership.
But Sharon walked out of the convention with nary a hair out of place. What's more, the hisses and hoots only helped him escape the narrow right-wing party vise and ascend to Ben-Gurionesque heights.
The national mood is not exactly soaring at the moment, but it's early yet to bury the road map. In my opinion, Sharon, one of our greatest generals, has reached the conclusion that military might will never beat terror. Otherwise it's impossible to explain his pledge, taken from the lexicon of Shimon Peres, to "put an end to occupation," or his declaration that "we can't rule over 3.5 million Palestinians."
At the Likud convention, no vote was passed against the path he has chosen and no one challenged his leadership. Despite the heckling of a noisy minority, no one has gone ahead and quit the government. Sharon's stubborn determination to follow the Bush trail and establish a Palestinian state is something that will have to be accepted until proven otherwise.
Adopting the road map was a gutsy thing to do, but the fact that no mention was made of a Palestinian state at the Likud convention brings back questions about Sharon's credibility. Because the success of Bush's plan depends most of all on Sharon's being believed by Israelis, Palestinians and America. Heaven help him if anyone should think he's looking for a way to climb down the tree. Gone are the days of pulling out the military steamroller for every little thing. If a response is necessary, it will have to be a carefully measured one.
The attack at the Erez junction was a joint effort of the three extremist organizations in Gaza. Its primary goal was to undermine Abu Mazen's government and deter the authorities from disarming the resistance front. But that doesn't mean Sharon is off the hook in carrying out his road map commitments - dismantling outposts, for example.
Abu Mazen has promised to round up the weapons of these organizations and find a solution for his own Altalena-type troubles. He asked us for a few weeks' extension to get organized, prior to his crackdown on terror, and we gave it to him at Aqaba.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz thinks Sharon has crossed the Rubicon, but also he believes that for the Abu Mazen administration, getting a handle on the terrorists is still a long way off. Credibility on Sharon's part with respect to his road map commitments - evacuating outposts, releasing prisoners, ordering the army to withdraw to its positions before the outbreak of the intifada, creating a contiguous stretch of land for the Palestinians - will strengthen Abu Mazen and give the Palestinians hope that there is another way apart from Arafat's trajectory of blood and fire.
Above all, Sharon's credibility will have to pass the Bush test. The American president has jumped with both feet into a swampy bog that has trapped all his predecessors. Contrary to popular belief, his electioneering consultants have advised him not to, on the premise that failure tends to have a longer shelf life than chances of success.
Bin Laden released Bush from the strangulating image of a provincial leader, transforming him into a global leader intent on battling international terror. Bush has realized that to win the cooperation of the Islamic world in his fight against the Axis of Evil, the first thing he has to do is dry up the swamp - namely, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He won't forgive Sharon for not sticking to his commitment to prepare the ground for a Palestinian state with temporary borders by the end of the year, which, as we all know, marks the onset of an election year in America.
Acceptance of the road map, reforms in the Palestinian Authority, hope in Israel - these are the results of what seems to be a Sharonian metamorphosis. Our fate will be determined not by catcalls in the Likud convention but by the credibility of our prime minister.
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