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Not long ago, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, the country was in an uproar over the publication of the minutes from the cabinet meetings that preceded the outbreak of hostilities. Despite the passage of so much time, the renewed consideration of the manifestations of insensitivity and blind arrogance that were reflected in the words of the decision-makers of the time were cause for amazement yet again: Is it conceivable to wallow in such mistaken conceptions, to insist on principles that are so petrified, to miss every iota of a chance for achieving a settlement without going to war?

Yet in retrospect, even the ignominious government of Golda Meir glows with the translucent light of innocence in comparison with what happened this week in the meeting of the cabinet of the Sharon government.

In a dialogue calculated to send shivers down the spine, something straight out of the old anti-war satire by Hanoch Levin, "Queen of the Bath," Prime Minister Sharon was revealed to be a kind of "queen of the bath on steroids."

In a blunt exchange with the director of Military Intelligence, Major General Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, the present prime minister turned out to be not only consciously unreceptive to any prospect of a settlement with Syria, not only someone who is not striving for peace, but actually someone who is striving against it! Openly, shamelessly, with tooth and nail, Sharon lashed out and blocked any possibility that this was a serious possibility, argued with the data of the cowed intelligence chief, and simply repulsed the negotiations as though he were fighting for his life. He was not content until he "persuaded" everyone present that this peace-schmeace, too, should be rejected out of hand: Who needs it?

From many points of view, it was a historic moment - another shaking and toppling of a fundamental Israeli ethos, of the kind that Sharon is fomenting relentlessly, from the realm of social justice to unblemished public service and combat morality.

Israel has had prime ministers who were narrow-minded, evasive, procrastinators, lacking political vision; but they all strictly upheld one basic convention: They maintained at least the appearance of striving for peace with our neighbors - as a Jewish moral imperative, as a condition for the normalization of our existence, as part of our emergence from the existential ghetto, as an educational axiom, as a sense of personal historical mission, as part of our self-determination. Now, along comes Ariel Sharon and gives an educational lesson - and in public, yet - in standing Ben-Gurionism on its head: Who needs peace? Who needs the morality of the prophets? Who needs normality? Who wants to be a light unto the gentiles?

This is the truth that underlies the "pretty" words, calculated ad nauseam, in the sly and cynical speeches that Sharon occasionally delivers for purposes of image maintenance. However, as we contemplate the series of grotesque conditions that he immediately heaped up, like a bulldozer, on the road to negotiations with Syria, and the almost comic resemblance between them and the series of conditions he heaped up on the Palestinian path, and his crudely mocking dismissal of even feelers toward conciliation extended by the Libyans, we have confirmation of the old saying: "If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

Sharon was and remains a man of war. He never had, doesn't have and will never have in him a single bone of a vision of peace. Throughout his life, he has torpedoed moves at conciliation. He has never drawn a positive picture of peace. In his term in office, he has not put forward the idea of peace even as a remote possibility.

It's as though he's lacking this particular lobe. He wasn't brought up for that, didn't grow into it, and didn't mature that way in his old age either. He never dreamed of good neighborliness, never talked about joint projects, and never longed to have hummus in Damascus. Maybe he's the most clear-eyed and disillusioned of all his predecessors. But what do we get out of that clear-eyed gaze, when the result is bereavement and more bereavement? What does this rejectionist pessimism achieve, beyond self-fulfillment?

Strangely, it was Sharon's partner in war and in conceptions, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who this week opened his tight-pressed lips - which are as calculated in their evasive silences as Sharon's are in his "utterances" - and drew attention to the bankruptcy of the past three years: "Hamas and Islamic Jihad are becoming stronger at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, to the point of possibly forming a governmental alternative... There is anarchy in every sphere of life there... There is no guiding hand in the areas of the Palestinian Authority." And that's not all: "Arafat has returned to center stage and is today pulling the strings."

So, surfers down the sewage slope, there you have all the achievements of "burning of consciousness," the "liquidations," "vanquishing the PA" and "isolating Arafat." What has been achieved in three terrible and bloody years of waste? If this be victory, what is defeat? If this is a clear-eyed gaze, what is blindness?

But why should we complain about someone who has yet to give vent to any constructive, civil political thought, beyond the settlement psychosis and the urge to vanquish and avenge? It's a lost cause: Water will not flow from these stones. Leaders of the Sharon and Mofaz type behave as though they have adopted one piece of advice offered by Machiavelli: A prince ought to devote himself solely to the art of war; he should consider peace a breathing space, in which it is possible to weave plots and plan military moves.