Back in the days when this country was young, a manufacturer of pen refills came up with an advertising slogan that translated roughly as "It all depends on the write."
Now what made me think of that? Because the disengagement vote that Ariel Sharon is expected to win in the Knesset later today all depends on the right. What does Sharon need to do to transform this parliamentary achievement into a triumph? Well, that seems obvious enough - see to it that the disengagement plan is carried out.
If only things were that simple. Sharon's opponents - both those who claim to have a direct line to God as well as Sharon's own party chums - are gearing up to torpedo his initiative. Usually there's a lot of truth in the old saying that what a leader doesn't do in his first hundred days he'll never do. Only in Sharon's case, it works the other way.
He looks like a leader who is too tired and worn out to get a precedent setting scheme like the Gaza pullout off the ground. That's why everybody and his cousin thinks they can kick him around and threaten to leave him in the lurch. But looks can definitely be misleading. The outcome of today's vote, if all goes well, will invigorate this nine-lives politician, who is hoping to get off the merry-go-round of history with Gaza withdrawal on his record, drawing on the same spirit of determination he has shown, for good or for bad, throughout his lifetime.
There are several options open to him "the day after."
A. - He can impose sanctions on rebellious ministers and play the tough guy. Anyone who votes against him can kiss his seat goodbye. Take Uzi Landau, for example. As minister in charge of "strategic coordination," he has spent most of his days undermining the prime minister. Tonight, Sharon can tell him and his buddies - either go along with the majority and support disengagement, or go home.
Sharon must enforce his authority, both in his own faction and among all card-toting Likudniks. He should also take this opportunity to make it clear to the speaker of the Knesset, and, with all due respect, to the president of Israel himself, that in setting themselves up against the prime minister, they have deviated from their obligation to represent the entire nation.
B. - His second option is to regain his party's backing, not with a smack in the face but with a show of benevolence - no firing people, no penalties, just talking. "Okay," he can say to them, "you've done your protesting, but my initiative has a majority. So from now on, let's work on this thing together. I wasn't thrilled about dismantling Yamit. I did it because it served a higher purpose - ending the war with Egypt. But anyone who goes against the Knesset majority can consider himself outside the Likud."
C. - The third option is to call early elections and ask the majority in favor of the initiative to renew his mandate. That would end up delaying the evacuation and endangering his position. History has shown that pushing up elections in a bid to gain more power - as Rabin did in 1977, for example - has always backfired. Everyone who has tried it has been toppled - except for Sharon himself in 2003.
But the Sharon of 2005 will not be the Sharon of the previous elections, who doubled the Likud's strength. His life is being threatened; his party is tripping him up; rabbis are preaching disobedience and civil war. Underground cells are plotting to bump him off, or do something big, like blowing up the Temple Mount, which will drench the country in blood and endanger the lives of Jews everywhere. And all of that to insure that no one dares to dismantle a settlement in Gaza.
Sharon has elected to move ahead on a very problematic initiative that could bury him politically. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has tried to sabotage a plan that could get the cart out of the rut and relieve us of a million and a half Palestinians early on in the game. Sharon will have to be a true virtuoso to juggle the war on terror and disengagement simultaneously, while the game board keeps changing before his eyes.
Tonight is only the first hurdle. But Sharon has made up his mind. He refuses to see military disobedience as a threat or to allow the religious rulings of the rabbis to scare him. Somehow or other, he is going to get the party to stand behind him and drum up a coalition that will guarantee him a majority. And when he gets that predicted majority tonight, there will be no stopping him. Gaza? We're out of there.
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