Leaders do not like to think about their end - and especially not Israeli leaders. Due to the difficulty of imagining their departure, Israeli prime ministers tend to behave as if their term of office will continue indefinitely. Their recurrent delusion is that they will be given enough time to shape the processes that they have set in motion. This danger also now threatens Ariel Sharon.
Sharon achieved his goal in August 2005. He parted with Gaza thoroughly and determinedly. He implemented his unilateral strategy courageously and professionally. He proved that he is capable of standing up to the Palestinians, coping with the right and rolling the occupation back to a border.
Nevertheless, Sharon's border-fashioning enterprise is still in its infancy. As he himself knows very well, the disengagement did not create a new equilibrium. It did not replace the corrupting arrangement of the occupation with an alternative arrangement. Therefore, if he exits the stage now, he will leave behind an unstable situation, a state that is liable to fall into a dangerous tailspin. Thus for the foreseeable future, Sharon is essential. His departure is not an option. His downfall is inconceivable. He must remain in the Prime Minister's Office in order to lead the state of Israel into a stabilizing partition of the land of Israel.
The question that is currently on the agenda is how to accomplish this: from within the Likud, or by running against the Likud. From the heights of Likud headquarters in Metzudat Ze'ev, or from outside it. The answer is not simple. On one hand, establishing a new center party is not that easy. On the other hand, Sharon's chances within the Likud are not as bad as they look. It is possible that the desire to remain in power under his leadership, instead of entering the political wilderness under Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership, will bring many Likud members over to Sharon. It is also possible that at the moment of truth, Likud Central Committee members will prefer the hated Sharon, who brings 40 Knesset seats, to the beloved Netanyahu, who brings 20.
Nevertheless, Sharon must not let himself be tempted. After exhausting the process within the Likud, he must leave. Not only because it is hard to see him bringing a sane Likud faction to the next Knesset, but also because the Likud's influence on public life has become intolerable. For the sake of Israel's future, Sharon must dismantle the Likud state.
Following the disengagement, it is now clear that these are two different states: Israel on one hand, and the Likud state on the other. Israel wants sovereignty, a border and a clear national identity; the Likud state wants settlements, a mixed population and a blurred identity. Israel wants democracy, rationality and enlightenment; the Likud state wants corruption, slaps on the back and emotional storms. Israel wants a clean government that represents everyone, the Likud state wants a Byzantine government that cares only for those close to the seat of power.
In the past, the Likud state could be credited with representing the people. But no longer. Today, it no longer represents the people of Israel, but only the people of the Likud. The Likud state is no longer a reflection of the broader Israeli public, but a closed system that prevents this public from expressing itself politically. Therefore, the time has come to choose: Israel or the Likud state. The Israeli republic or the republic of the Likud Central Committee.
Only Sharon can actualize this choice. Precisely because he is the one who established the Likud, he is the one who can destroy it. Just as Sharon was the only one who could sever Israel from Gaza, Sharon is the only one who can sever Israel from the Likud's hegemony.
And it is essential that this be done: Without dividing the Likud, it will be impossible to divide the land. Without setting a border for the Likud, it will be impossible to set a border for Israel. The diplomatic process that Sharon is pushing needs a new and solid political base.
The Ben-Gurionist act that he is performing needs a new Mapai party. Therefore, the "big bang" is not merely a political need, but a historic one. The big bang is necessary to preserve Ariel Sharon's legacy, even after he himself is no longer with us.
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