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A government that includes Peres; that includes Silvan; with Shinui; without Shinui; with and without the ultra-Orthodox - the juggling of negotiations to expand the coalition reveal anew the central thrust of Ariel Sharon's leadership: He has no ideology, and the intellectual casuistries of his political partners bore him. The prime minister understands and appreciates only power.

His rivals on the right upbraid him with his speeches and articles of yesteryear, which vehemently rejected withdrawal and evacuation. The left praises itself for the conversion of the settlement builder, who adopted the concept of unilateral exit from Gaza. Both sides are analyzing the texts correctly, but missing the point. Contrary to them, Sharon doesn't care what he said and did yesterday. Hence his well-known ability to tell something to one reporter and deny it to his colleague.

His worldview is simple: To survive, Israel must remain stalwart in the face of the Arabs and anti-Semites. A leader's role is to assess the shifting balance of power and act accordingly. Asked whether he regrets having established the settlements he now intends to destroy, he replied: "The situation was different then."

In last week's speech at the IDF National Staff College, to be remembered as a key to understanding "the Sharon heritage," he explained that his task is to set national priorities, and to distinguish between "important and very important," depending on the circumstances.

The ideological steadfastness of people like Uzi Landau strikes him as ridiculous, and the settlers' messianism does not interest him. Sharon was charmed by the way settlers dealt with the hilly topography and Arab neighbors, by the determination of settler women. He appreciates can-do fellows like Zeev Hever ("Zambish") a lot more than he does preachers like Benny Elon and Effi Eitam.

Right-wing complaints that the disengagement plan is "a transfer of Jews" that is no more justified than evicting Arabs from their homes haven't even grazed Sharon's consciousness. He was once asked about transfer of Arabs and rejected the idea, primarily on practical grounds. He rejects the occupation, too, for the damage it inflicts on Israel, not out of any moral consideration.

The motives for advocating disengagement had to do with power. He was anxious about the deterioration in the international balance of power, and about cracks in internal unity, and so he decided to get out of Gaza. Now he has also whipped out the demographic card, which he stubbornly declined to do in the past.

He is contemptuous of the neighbors and their culture, and sums them up with his famous saying: "After all, we're talking about Arabs." He believes that the Arab world views Israel as an imposition, and won't come to terms with its existence, but even on this he is willing to be pragmatic. Sharon pays more visits than his predecessors did to Arab and Bedouin villages, and he easily cooperates with Mubarak, formerly his bitter foe. And while Arafat inspires deep hatred, he has refrained from deporting him.

By the same token, the American right's high-minded notions of democracy in the Arab world are alien and strange to his mind. He used the flare-up of hostilities between America and the Arabs to his advantage, without being impressed by the missionary ideology of neo-conservatives - Benjamin Netanyahu's associates.

Sharon hankers after America, but his worldview was actually developed in France, with which he sparred this week. In the words of Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful 17th-century statesman and originator of the raison d'etat doctrine that is the foundation of European balance of power: "In matters of state, might makes right, and only with difficulty can the weak avoid being deemed wrong by most of the world."

Among American statesmen, Sharon is closest in spirit to Henry Kissinger, exiled from Nazi Germany as a child who grew up in America a believer in the supremacy of force and national interest over moral preaching and ideological messianism. "The balance of power," Kissinger summed up the European political heritage, "is not aimed at achieving peace, but stability and moderation." It would be tough to find a more fitting description of Sharon's policy.