There is only one political course of action worse than disengaging from territories in the Gaza Strip and West Bank without getting anything in return and without coordination with the Palestinian side - not disengaging from the territories. There is only one political course of action worse than the Labor Party's support for Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan - opposition to the plan.
As is well known, when Shimon Peres is asked to join the government, he is not put off by the Ministry for Regional Development. It has been proved that for a handful of portfolios, Labor is prepared to serve a right-wing government that is working toward eradicating the peace process for which its leader paid with his life.
When the prime minister asks Labor to fill the places vacated by the right-wing ministers, the party, headed by Peres, will not be able to refuse him.
The formula known as a "safety net," which is mentioned as an alternative to joining the coalition, is less democratic than a unity government. The main opposition party is not entitled to provide the government with a preemptive stamp of approval for all its actions and shortcomings.
A party that purports to fly the flag of peace cannot stand idly by when the prime minister needs its support for a peace initiative. A party that believes in a peace agreement based on the 1967 borders will have a hard time explaining to its voters why it turned its back on a move that brings Israel closer to those very borders.
How would it be possible for a Nobel Peace Prize laureate to raise his hand against a plan that has earned the title of "historic" from the U.S. administration and has received the blessing of Egypt?
If Labor rejects an offer to join the disengagement government, Sharon won't hesitate to lay the blame for the failure of his plan at its feet, and will be absolved even of the need to prove that he actually intended to pull out of Netzarim.
One can argue, justifiably, that the experience of the last unity government teaches that ministerial chairs are not enough to prevent the Labor ministers from being pushed under the table of a right-wing government. But, in contrast to the last unity government, in which Labor was a superfluous addition to the right-wing and religious parties, this time around, the resignation of the National Religious Party and the National Union would grant Labor the key to Sharon's survival (unless those among the Likud who are opposed to the disengagement plan step in first and topple him).
A united front with Shinui's dovish majority will give Labor the right and the ability to dictate terms with regard to the finer details of the disengagement plan. These finer details will determine its fate, and perhaps also the fate of the entire blood-soaked Israeli-Arab conflict.
The evacuation of Jews from 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip and three or four isolated settlements in the West Bank could be a station on the way to ending the occupation, or an obstacle on the road to peace. In these finer details, most of which still remain hidden, lies the key to Labor joining the government.
The most important detail is the coordination with the Palestinian Authority. Why is the Prime Minister's Office going to such pains to promise that Sharon's meeting with PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia will not deal with the disengagement plan? What interest could Israel have in objecting to an international force in Gaza and in abandoning the area to outlaws, aside from the desire to prove to the Israeli public and the entire world that one Palestinian hornets' nest on Israel's southwestern border is enough?
The prime minister's refusal to coordinate the pullout with the Palestinian Authority arouses suspicions that Sharon doesn't want the disengagement from Gaza to whet the public's appetite for a disengagement from additional territories. Labor's agreement to join the government must be contingent on the disengagement plan being based on an effort to turn it into a positive experiment that will rehabilitate the trust between the sides and spur them on to further concessions.
And another important condition: Before the direction in which Sharon is moving finally becomes clear, the Labor leaders should make do with the status of ministers without portfolio. As such, it will be a lot easier to disengage them from the government - if it emerges that for Sharon, Gaza first means Gaza last, if at all.
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