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You can agree with everything that those running for prime minister in both major parties are saying about each other, but with that style of disputation they are not enabling citizens to decide in an intelligent manner which candidate to support. Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Ehud Barak, Matan Vilnai and the rest of the Labor candidates are waging an outspoken campaign over what has been, and are not giving the public an opportunity to judge their positions on what may be expected. The argument among them is merely personal, and has nothing to do with the country's needs and the important issues on its agenda.

Ariel Sharon does not let the public in on his intentions toward the Palestinian Authority. We do not know what he intends to do if the Palestinians maintain quiet in the Gaza Strip: Is he prepared to widen the crack that opened upon implementation of the disengagement plan, in the direction of a similar accommodation in the West Bank? We haven't a clue what he will do with the West Bank settlements - augment them? remove some of them?

What, according to his definition, are the settlement blocs that he means to surround by a fence, and how does his conception of the permanent borders jibe with the American expectations, to which he acceded so sweepingly in evacuating the Strip and northern West Bank? Perhaps he has in mind to sentence Israel to an additional period of paralysis in the peace process, and mobilization for a new armed conflict with the Palestinians? If that is his intention, how does it reconcile with his stated awareness of the social and economic needs that were taken into account, he claims, in his withdrawal initiative?

Netanyahu's political thinking also remains a mystery: He was against the disengagement plan but in favor of it, supported it but resigned from the government before it was implemented, on the grounds that he has reservations about the way Sharon conducted himself - but not about his initiative itself. Now he presents a staunch position against the withdrawal itself, and at the very same time announces that he would be prepared to make further concessions to the Palestinians so long as they are mutual. Netanyahu's ideological hodgepodge does not help the public understand where he will lead the country, if elected prime minister.

Uzi Landau is taking a similar tack: ostensibly, his political credo is orderly and solid, but in practice he does not explain how he will steer Israel in its complex situation: Is he thinking of annexing the West Bank? How does his democratic world view fit with the apartheid reality the occupation creates? What will he do with the demographic trends destined to annihilate the Zionist identity of the state, if it continues to hang onto the territories?

These qualifications likewise apply to the Labor Party's candidates: It's hard to distinguish between them as they come to contend with the central problems of the state and it is unclear why they, to a man, can't wait to dismantle the present government: Sharon, after all, is realizing their doctrine effectively, with a courage and determination they never displayed. Sure, the entire Labor Party is proclaiming a political and socioeconomic line that is different from the Likud's, but it remains a center party, not a party of the left. Certainly when it comes to political and security matters, even a sensitive detector would not spot the differences among the five contestants.

This criticism can be quashed mentioning the conduct in practice of Menachem Begin (the withdrawal from Sinai), Yitzhak Rabin (the Oslo Accords) and Ariel Sharon (the disengagement plan). Indeed, experience teaches that the proclaimed positions of candidates become worthless the moment they get hold of the reins.

There is no good response to this claim except, perhaps, for one: The public is entitled to marked boundaries of the arena inside which the national debate takes place, otherwise it is sentenced to confusion that undermines the very ability to choose between world views and candidates. There is something patently undemocratic about the freedom with which politicians competing for the public's heart ignore its desire to know where they intend to lead it.