Guilty or not, Sharon's responsible
For the first time in the country's history, the prime minister will be in a most problematic position: present-absent in someone else's trial, not yet accused himself of accepting a bribe but nonetheless the subject of a bribery indictment, as will be his deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
On or about September 1, an indictment will be handed down against David Appel. There will be several charges, but the most serious of all will be that he bribed Ariel Sharon. For the first time in the country's history, the prime minister will be in a most problematic position: present-absent in someone else's trial, not yet accused himself of accepting a bribe - the prosecution wants to make that decision after the Appel trial - but nonetheless the subject of a bribery indictment, as will be his deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert.
It is intolerable in the public sense, if not in the legal sense, for a prime minister to serve in office while a citizen is being prosecuted for bribing him in the period before he became prime minister, but while he was on his way to to the position. In two affairs, the Greek island affair and the Annex Research straw company scandal, Sharon is like a tennis player who made it legally to the finals at Wimbledon, but is suspected that, on the way to the semifinals, he guaranteed his position by various illegitimate means, so must be disqualified.
The Likud leadership, won with extra - and prohibited - financing, is the victory in the semifinals of the vote for prime minister in the personal ballot electoral system. Without it, Sharon never would have made it to the final against Ehud Barak, thereby earning the chance to win the top job.
Appel is suspected of bribing Sharon by showering Sharon's son Gilad with riches. Gilad and Omri, the prime minister's other son, were involved in arranging the financial complexity of the Annex scandal. Sharon denies knowing any of the details of his sons' activities. They, and supposedly the Sycamore Ranch, which all three claim as their official residence and which is the signatory on the Appel contract, are separate legal entities. According to that line of argument, even if it is proved that Omri and Gilad broke the law, their father cannot be held responsible for the sins of the sons.
The presentation of the affair that way is deceptive and fraudulent, and not only because it raises the question that if Sharon can't run a family unit of three people, how can he run a country of six million. Sharon wasn't the innocent parent here, sending his sons to buy milk from the grocery, amazed to learn later on that the boy actually stole the milk. Gilad and Omri were sent to Cyril Kern's grocery, and, according to the suspicions, to other kiosks and candy shops, to bring a million and a half dollars to help their father. If he's not interested where the money came from, it means he closed his eyes and ears - and not for the first time.
It is possible, barely, to believe the best version: that Sharon didn't know the actual route of the money trail because this calculating man, who pays attention to the tiniest of details and writes down his spontaneous asides in advance, didn't want to know. It's a well-known system of denial that enables someone to roll the blame downhill to someone of lesser authority. In the case of Olmert, who has already been found innocent in a trial where the Likud treasurer was found guilty, the indictment could roll to his loyal assistant, Shula Zaken, who conducted some of the contacts between Olmert and Appel. In Sharon's case, the ball will stop with Omri and Gilad.
But the question is not if Sharon is guilty, but whether he is responsible. The Kahan commission, one of whose three members was Justice Aharon Barak, has already ruled on this, and two of the people who collected material for the commission were Justice Dorit Beinish and State Attorney Edna Arbel. The Kahan commission did not say Sharon knew the Phalangists would enter the refugee camps to conduct a massacre. It said he bore indirect personal responsibility because he ignored "the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed," and did not take that into consideration when he decided to deploy the Phalange and did not order other appropriate steps to be taken. In other words, he didn't know, but should have known, and not knowing only absolves him of direct responsibility, while the indirect responsibility was enough to strip him of the Defense Ministry.
In the public arena, Gilad Sharon's campaign to deny the prosecution access to his documents lest they incriminate his father, cannot be allowed to succeed. If Gilad wins and keeps the documents, the impression will remain that the prime minister had something to hide, and even if it takes years until it is legally determined whether the concealment did indeed hide a crime of moral turpitude, the turpitude is self-evident, whether or not a crime was committed.
Legally, Sharon has the right to claim innocence until proved guilty. Politically, his ability to function as prime minister is over. He won't have the moral authority toward the citizenry and the political power toward George Bush and Abu Mazen. The Likud already regards him as a millstone around its neck and is afraid that if the legal procedures continue to the next elections, it will bring down the ruling party. In the eyes of low and mid-ranking party activists, as distinct from ministers eyeing his chair, Sharon has to go right now.
Peace does not depend on Sharon, just as it didn't depend on another Appel friend, Aryeh Deri, under similar circumstances. Any prime minister - Benjamin Netanyahu included - will have to adopt a policy that takes into consideration the aspirations of the Israeli people and Washington's demands.