Ariel Sharon is leaving tomorrow night for a trip that would seem to be crucial for his disengagement plan - he is about to commit himself and the American administration to a journey from which there would appear to be no turning back.
For the willingness to dismantle all the Israeli settlements in the Katif bloc, evacuate the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the West Bank, he will get declarations of American support which mark certain political achievements - reformulating the American positions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
By this, Sharon appears to be committing himself to carry out his plan. It seems that one could say without exaggeration that this is the most important act of government he has taken since being elected.
Sharon should be commended for the leadership he is displaying in his decision to break the malignant status quo of the armed conflict with the Palestinians. The disengagement plan has many flaws and some say the conflict could have been extracted from the bloody quagmire it has sunk into in some other way, but no feasible proposal has been put on the agenda.
Ideas like the Geneva agreement or the Saudi initiative may be exhilarating, but their Achilles heel is the inability of the majority of the Israeli public to accept them. The disengagement plan, on the other hand, was conceived by the leader of the Likud, who is prime minister and holds considerable bargaining power to execute it.
There is a basic truth in the recognition, which Sharon and Shimon Peres both share, that only the Likud can do it. The withdrawal precedent embodied in the plan is crucial and makes it imperative to support it, despite its being fragmental and limited in its ability to solve the conflict.
All this is on condition that Sharon indeed means to carry out his plan. Somehow, there is no certainty that this vision will be realized, ultimately. Not only may the plan be foiled by the objective difficulties on the way, but also by Sharon's secrets and intrigues.
Sharon is suspected of finding a way to evade his undertaking, even one he makes to the president of the United States, using the potholes on the way, if not actually digging them with his own hands.
Sharon's intentions may be tested by the schedule he sets to to implement the plan and the practical steps he takes to do so. At the end of the week he initiated advancing the referendum among the Likud members to the end of the month. By this he is apparently accelerating the necessary political process to implement his initiative - referendum, cabinet decision, Knesset approval.
However, in Passover eve interviews Sharon said he was not setting a timetable for his plan's execution, and predicted that it would not be implemented before next Passover - "I hope that next Passover we will be in the middle of the disengagement plan."
This is a suspicious statement. The IDF can plan its redeployment in the Gaza area in a short time; the compensation terms for the settlers can be settled within weeks and if they require legislation, the Knesset has proved it can do so in days - the laws for uniting Jerusalem were made in one day; negotiations with the settlers would be more effective if carried out in a fixed time and not dragged out for a year and more.
Once Sharon decided on the disengagement plan, if indeed he has decided, it is in his and the country's interest to facilitate the process as much as possible. Fixing facts rapidly will be good for defining the relations with the Palestinians, for Israel's international standing and for shortening the internal dispute in the state.
If within a month or a month and a half, Sharon crosses the political obstacle course on the way to having his plan approved, he will be able to set the pace for its implementation. His decision will prove his intentions.
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