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A plug is a very useful little gadget. It plays a star role in stopping up the sink and the bathtub. In the form of a cork, it helps to age wine and champagne, and preserve the potency of medicine.

Think for a minute where civilization would be without it. Especially when the plug in question is an actual human being, standing in for a person who has the flu or has been bumped from his job, or temporarily appointed to replace a minister who has quit or been relieved of his duties. In fact, a plug can be a real lifesaver when a whole party resigns from the government coalition.

Plugs are very versatile, but they don't get much respect. For the most part, they are discarded after use. This is particularly true when an entire political party volunteers to plug up a hole.

The party in this case is Labor. Senior party members have been in and out of Ariel Sharon's office of late, as he tests their willingness to join his government if Avigdor Lieberman or Effi Eitam walk out in the wake of the mysterious unilateral action maneuver that Sharon is threatening to perform.

This is not a new tactic for Sharon. Every time he has problems with his coalition partners, he immediately summons the Labor Party players sitting on the bench, headed by Peres, for a round of talks. It doesn't matter what he says to them. What is important is the message Sharon sends to his government partners via such meetings, which is: I've got replacements any time I want.

The pathetic thing is how eager Labor is to assume this role of human cork. On the one hand, MK Fuad Ben-Eliezer says that the unilateral withdrawal maneuver is just a lot of hot air: "When he knocks down 100 outposts, evacuates Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Morag, frees 3,000 prisoners and gets rid of 80 percent of the roadblocks, then we'll know he's serious."

But these conditions aside, I would put my money on Labor joining the government for much less. All Sharon has to do is say the word. When it was part of the unity government, Labor contributed nothing to the advancement of peace. Sharon was, is, and will always be an absolute monarch even if the Labor Party saves his kingdom.

The performance of the government in its 10 months in office has been catastrophic in every sphere, as the four Shin Bet chiefs put it two weeks ago, and Ephraim Halevi put it just the other day. No major issue has ever rated an in-depth discussion - not the fence, not its route, not its real or hidden purpose, not the money being poured into the settlements, not the Palestinian dialogue track.

At the moment, there is no minister - and that includes Mofaz, Shalom and Netanyahu - who has any idea whether the Sharon-Olmert proposal is a trick, a contingency plan, a scare tactic aimed at the Palestinian Authority or an experiment to see how far the settlers can be pushed.

On the eve of the Lebanon War in 1982, the government plenary discussed two operative plans for Lebanon: Little Pines and Big Pines. Now the choice is between Little Unilateral and Big Unilateral. The difference between then and now is that back then, the ministers were at least included in the discussion and the vote - although when it came down to brass tacks, Sharon did what he wanted. Now his ministers get the lowdown from a speech he delivers at the Herzliya Conference as one of the invited guests. Is that a laugh, or what?

It's outrageous how Sharon's ministers meekly accept the fateful decisions he makes all by himself. Even in the days of authoritarian prime ministers like Begin, Rabin, Golda and Ben-Gurion, there was no topic on which the ministers did not demand details, explanations and a say in the decision-making process.

With a government peopled by the likes of Lieberman and Eitam, Sharon obviously can't move forward on the Bush road map, which ultimately calls for a return to the Green Line. Otherwise he would never choose a tactic like unilateral withdrawal, which boils down to an agreement without an agreement and without a partner. So he'll fulfill his obligation with a tactical pullback from a couple of outposts while pulling off a massive annexation of land in the West Bank that will only increase terror and provoke conflict with America.

Ten months are enough to diagnose the bankruptcy of the Sharon administration. At this time, when public opinion is serious about concessions and dismantling settlements, and Sharon is up to his neck in a police investigation on charges of bribery, it is the duty of the opposition to topple the government and call for early elections. Not to plug the hole.