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There was something almost comic in the expressions on the faces of the country's bigwigs - the president, the prime minister, the minister of education - as they listened to the speech delivered by the actress Gila Almagor at the ceremony in which Israel Prizes were awarded on Independence Day this week. The look of shame on their faces seemed to attest that such remarks, refreshing in their elementariness, moving in their simplicity and sincerity - about the point and purpose of our life in this country, about the hopes that haven't yet been discarded, about our cultural identity as Israelis - should have really come from them and not from an artist. That is how true leaders should speak, instead of pulverizing us with the usual concoction of bland and lying cliches.

True, we don't necessarily expect brilliant rhetoric from national leaders; but listening to the holiday interviews given by the prime minister on Independence Day made one wonder: How obtuse, evasive and vague can a prime minister be, especially when he is supposedly carving out a new direction at a fateful juncture?

"I hope that - ahh - things will be good," was how Ariel Sharon, like a wily suspect in a police interrogation, replied to the question of what is his message for the nation on Independence Day (besides liquidating Yasser Arafat as a bonus for the members of the Likud). "Ahh - I hope that - ahh - better days await us...."And as for the decisive issue on the agenda, he had no more to say than, "I hope that next year we will be in the midst of the disengagement plan."

That was it: with the usual ambiguity, with no vision, with no reasonable explanation of what this plan of "disengagement" contains - apart from being a test of his personal survival. How will it help? What are the details? What will come next? And why "in another year"? If, nevertheless, Sharon volunteered an ostensibly decisive reason, it took the form, once again, of implicit mumbling about the need "to block plans and initiatives of other countries," in case of a political vacuum.

So surfeited are we with wiles and guiles, that we no longer notice how strange the reasoning (which is the main motivation offered by Sharon) really is. And what's even stranger is the obtuse, weary nod of the head with which this reason is accepted by the dovish camp, too. Really, what kind of an explanation is this? A "unilateral political initiative" with the negative aim of blocking negotiations and mutuality? What in the world is so terrible about plans, proposals, political initiatives, negotiations, and even mediation, of all things? These, after all, are the only methods known to mankind to end conflicts, apart from mutual annihilation.

One way or the other, the obtuseness and the weariness - apparently the result of the ongoing terrorism - are inducing us to clutch this "disengagement" like the last branch available to someone drowning, if only because all the rest have already snapped away. The "disengagement" has become a kind of default choice, in which everyone finds what he most seeks: the moderates see it as a welcome sign of more withdrawals; the right wing would have us believe that it is the ultimate punishment for the Palestinians. But maybe there is another "rationale," though one that is not necessarily logical: we tried to sharpen and clarify the issues of the conflict; we tried dialogue, we tried mutuality, we tried everything else. Nothing worked. So let's try the opposite: unilateralness, non-dialogue, non-clarity. Maybe this time, somehow, it'll work.

So the policy of opacity isn't confined solely to the nuclear sphere. In today's Israel it's all embracing, extending even to the supposedly unequivocal decisions. Is it only chance that Sharon is incapable even of formulating clearly the fateful decision that lies before us? It's not a verbal thing: it's simply impossible to express cogently half-baked ideas, patchwork plans and initiatives that are accompanied by winks and mystery. The point is that underlying all this is the inability of the Sharon government, like all its predecessors, to confront frontally and ideologically the inert worldview that is propounded by the settlement movement; its inability to posit against it an enthusiastic vision of pragmatic, normal Israeliness, which is defined within its borders.

Thus, seemingly for the same endless tactical grounds, from which there is never a thrust into broader horizons, Sharon's vision is once more not taking off beyond the next ridge: to somehow get through the vote; to survive in office; to drive the war forward for another few decades; to extend the full closure of the territories for another day, another two days - until after Independence Day, until after the Likud referendum, until after the Final Four games. And what will come next - during the rest of the week, the rest of the year? God is great.