Analysis / Fate had quite a laugh
The political system has been laboring for weeks under the assumption that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not be brought to trial in the Greek island affair.
The political system has been laboring for weeks under the assumption that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not be brought to trial in the Greek island affair. It was a done deal. And despite that, politicians appeared flabbergasted at hearing Attorney General Menachem Mazuz clear Sharon and his son Gilad of all charges. Even Sharon's advisers could not have drafted a more successful report from the prime minister's perspective.
Moreover, throughout the year or two in which the Greek island affair was hanging over Sharon's head, none of his close associates delivered a speech in his favor so sweeping, so unequivocal as Mazuz did yesterday. Even Sharon's greatest defenders sounded, on occasion, a tad circumspect on certain points, such as the enviable salary the young farmer Gilad received, for browsing the Internet. Yesterday it turned out that every dollar paid to him was paid lawfully. And they, the close associates, didn't know he had it in him.
The prime minister had an unbearable burden lifted last night, and now he can walk tall toward the political challenge awaiting him: building a new, complex coalition, under difficult political conditions, and at the start of an historic political maneuver - evacuating the settlements in the Gaza Strip. Here, at least, Sharon has some ability to control developments since he is no longer held hostage by others. Obviously, the Sharon of yesterday is stronger than the Sharon of the day before. But the political significance of the decision to close the file is not equal to that of the opposite decision, had it been made.
Sharon still heads a minority government. He's still facing a problematic, anti-unity faction, a quarter of whose members won't forgive him for the "disengagement plan." He's still struggling to muster a majority that will enable him to bring Labor into his government. And he's still hankering to be saved by the summer recess. Mazuz's decision doesn't get him off that hook. At best, it gives him a boost among the public, which polls say has begun doubting his integrity, and a great deal of good willingness on the part of the Labor Party to join the government pronto.
Someone among his retinue may yet be tempted to advise him to "take advantage of the momentum" and move up the elections, but that would be a mistake: next week no one will remember Mazuz's decision. The decision does not substantially alter Labor's position. If Sharon were to stand trial, Labor would run from him like the wind. Now it will be easier for Shimon Peres to come to his central committee waving - oh, how he will wave - the government's decision on disengagement from Gaza to argue the move's correctness. The problem is that Labor has not yet received any formal invitation to join. If and when the invitation arrives, negotiating teams will be set up to formulate what has already been understood and agreed and concluded. And then, naturally, both parties will begin their internal battles over posts and honors.
One thing will remain forever unknown - whether, as many believe, the main reason for the disengagement plan's delivery by one who never supported unilateral withdrawal was the legal plight of Sharon, who, so the theory goes, sought to influence the attorney general and public opinion to spare him. If that was indeed the case, fate had quite a laugh.