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What else does the Sharon-Eitam-Lieberman government have to do to make its senior partner, Shinui, understand that in one term it is breaking Labor's record for being a dishrag, as well as Shas' record for cynicism? Former Labor ministers admit today that for 18 months they functioned as a dangling fig leaf for an extreme right-wing government. Nevertheless, they are permitted to enjoy the benefit of the doubt, and to assume that they had some part in the frustration of such wild ideas as the expulsion/assassination of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. Shinui had pretensions of taking the place of the Labor party in the role of the representative of the left (everything is relative, of course), and finds itself playing the role of Shas.

When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon brought Shas into his government, he assumed that as long as the state coffers funded its institutions, the omnipotent leader of the ultra-Orthodox party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, would instruct his troop of ministers and MKs to serve as a safety net for the policy of occupation. Sharon was right. The last time Shas had an influence on a decision regarding war and peace was when Aryeh Deri opposed the intervention of the Israel Defense Forces in the 1991 Gulf War. When Sharon brought the 15 members of Shinui into his government, he assumed that it was enough for him to throw out Shas for Yosef Lapid, the omnipotent leader of the anti-Haredi party, to instruct his troops to support the moves and the laws of the government. Sharon was right this time, too.

Although it is the second largest party in the government, Shinui relinquished all the political and security portfolios ahead of time. The mouths of its five ministers have been silenced before the proxies of the settlers in the government, and the hands of its cabinet representatives have not prevented a single military step in the territories. Yosef Paritzky tried to use his authority as minister of national infrastructure to promote the road map, and was burned. He wanted to cut off the electricity from dozens of illegal outposts. Many weeks later he was informed that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz had not yet determined their status. Because Mofaz is the only one authorized to do so, until he finds time to discuss the issue, these outposts simply don't exist. How can one cut off the electricity from outposts that don't exist? Since then, other mobile homes, as well as several new nonexistent outposts, have joined these nonexistent outposts.

Nevertheless, when the leader of Shinui, Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, talks about Sharon's political horizon, he sounds like the chair of Labor and former foreign minister Shimon Peres, before Amram Mitzna pulled him and his friends out of the right-wing government. Lapid's associates believe that he is really convinced that if the prime minister only had a serious partner for peace, the settlers would be crying out to heaven in pain at his concessions. The decision to get rid of Arafat was Shinui's great opportunity to examine this assumption. Lapid didn't even try to condition his support of the expulsion on the fulfillment of the commitments that Israel took upon itself with the approval of the road map - dismantling the outposts, freezing expansion of the settlements, easing travel restrictions for Arabs in the territories, and withdrawing to the lines of September 2000. The chair of Shinui complained that Sharon paid him back for his support of the mistaken decision to expel Arafat, as he put it, by violating his commitment to dismantle the religious councils.

Lapid and his friends are relinquishing the use of their electoral strength in order to check the downhill plunge into a security, political and social abyss, with the explanation that Shas would replace them. With the help of the argument "without us it would be worse," the party of lawyers is accepting the Sharon family's right to remain silent, and the perpetuation of the war in the territories. Only when it comes to the war against the ultra-Orthodox do they threaten to vacate their place in the government (to Shas?), and are surprised that Sharon doesn't take the threat seriously. They at first used the excuse of the Labor ministers, that if they caused Sharon to fall we would get Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his place. Now they're beginning to mention the wheeler-dealers of Shas, who worry about the family photo album at a time when the house and everyone inside it is burning.