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Once again, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has grasped at terror to obscure and water down his disengagement plan. The suicide bombing in Ashdod, together with the bombings in Madrid, led him two days ago, just before barely surviving a Knesset confidence vote, to submit a "diet" version of the plan.

Not that the plan was bursting with vitality beforehand. Since its birth, practically by Cesarean section, it has been an at-risk preemie. Even during days of relative quiet the prime minister did little to advance an agreement. It's the same now. The political attack from his right flank continues to cause him to squirm, but there is no excuse like Palestinian violence for justifying his constant failures in the most important issue facing the country.

Terror and politics have become a fatal combination, and not only in Israel. March 11 toppled the government in Spain, and September 11 saved a great deal of Bush's tottering prestige. But there is a big difference between international terror and "the present situation in Israel," as Sharon fatalistically put it to the Knesset, because of which he says he did not renew negotiations with the Palestinians.

Not one of the acts of Al-Qaida served a national urge. Bin Laden did not kill in America and in Spain to liberate occupied lands. He has an entirely different agenda. Insane and global in its sick ambition.

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is completely different. Bloody terror has always been the hook on which Sharon could hang his failure in bringing Israel peace and security. The other side is to blame, not Sharon's inability and, it seems, lack of real desire to loosen the complex nationalistic knots by means of leadership that is enlightened, creative and dynamic.

The bombings in Spain are perhaps connected to Israel because of a lie - the intentional pointing the finger of blame at the Basques, which helped defeat Spain's ruling party. If there is any similarity beyond the criminal bloodbath itself, it is in the Spanish prime minister's foolish attempt to grasp onto the horns of the terrorist attack.

For years, Palestinian terror has been used as a central reason for the lack of political activity by Likud governments. Rabin was the first to break the destructive connection between terror and diplomacy. That security-minded but open-eyed leader understood that nothing will come of the buds of understanding with the Palestinians if their growth is conditioned on a cessation of hostile acts.

This was perhaps Rabin's greatest leap over the hurdle of a general's mind: the internalization of the necessity to come to an agreement in spite of, and actually because of, the obstinate continuation of terror.

It was Jewish terror that led to the fact that we will never know what achievements Rabin could have had, in possession as he was of the understanding that terror will not be stopped by the dropping of bombs that are more or less smart, but rather by pulling up its roots by political means.

Sharon theoretically began to speak in similar terms. He brought himself to pronounce the word "occupation" and to admit that eventually it must be stopped. However time after time, from one pronouncement to its contradiction, the extent became clear to which Sharon was unable to go - and as always, it must be assumed that he does not actually want to go - in dealing deeply with the conflict, rather than just weeding out terror.

Sharon now finds himself one vote shy of a toppled government. The right is not alone in doing this to him. If he had been convinced, from the beginning of his first term in office, of the national imperative of moving toward an agreement, he would have long ago prevented a nationalistic clique from standing in his way and opposing the will of an unyielding majority of the public.

Sharon can still prove his intention to push disengagement, by spurring it on with no excuses and in spite of terror attacks. Labor is now rushing into his arms, a last-resort means to implement the plan. But even those who oppose a unity government can set aside their position if Sharon acts in a manner that demonstrates true intent: ejecting the extreme right from the coalition; speaking with the Palestinian leadership; carrying out appropriate measures in the West Bank; the immediate removal of a few settlements; and the other acts of which, sadly, precedent shows it is doubtful a zig-zagging Sharon at the end of his career is capable.