Sharon does not disengage
Three weeks after airing threats against Arafat's well-being, and having his sincerity questioned because of his promise to Bush to avoid any action that might harm Arafat, Sharon shot himself in the foot: On Channel Two on Friday, he informed the American president that he was no longer committed to his promise.
In Ivan Krylov's fable, the fox challenges the crow sitting on a high branch, playing on its vanity, and instigating it to break out in song so that the piece of cheese in its beak will fall, only to be scooped up by the fox. The fable applies to Ariel Sharon. Three weeks after airing threats against Palestinian Authority head Yasser Arafat's well-being, and having his sincerity questioned because of his promise to President George Bush to avoid any action that might harm Arafat, Sharon shot himself in the foot: On Channel Two on Friday, he informed the American president that he was no longer committed to his promise.
As usual with Sharon, his psychological state leads him to torpedo his own actions, and disrupt his path to the goal. Throughout his career, in the army and in public life, he has tripped himself up with his uncontrolled behavior. This was the case in the retaliation operations in the early 1950s, at the Mitla Pass during the 1956 Sinai Campaign, in the Yom Kippur War, in his relationship with the paratroop command, in the Lebanon War, in his relationship with prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, in his conduct vis-a-vis his colleagues in the cabinet, and in his management of the various ministries he was appointed to head. In every stage of his public life, he showed initiative, originality, daring and a focus on his goals; at the same time, he became intoxicated with power, never knew when it was time to stop and became entangled in disciplinary, public and legal procedures that made him lose ground.
On Passover eve, following the killing of Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Sharon announced that Arafat has no security guarantee. This arrogant declaration was meant to satisfy the Likud members, whose support the prime minister is seeking in the internal party referendum for his disengagement plan.
His statement was contradictory to his promise to Bush, and was therefore received with doubt and scorn among politicians and in the media in Israel. Sharon was not willing to lose face: According to him, during his visit to the White House 10 days ago, he informed Bush that he unilaterally disengaged from his promise not to harm Arafat, and on Friday night he announced this on Channel Two.
As on Passover eve, on the eve of Independence Day, Sharon voices his arrogant threats as he winks knowingly to the Likud members: He is warming up to their rowdy temperament in order to guarantee their support for his disengagement plan. It is also possible he believes that raising the sword over Arafat's head holds deterrent value: to prevent Hamas from carrying out a mass terror attack to avenge the killing of Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Either way, Sharon is finding himself in a conundrum, both political and in terms of his image, that distorts his ability to gain approval for his disengagement plan and implement it.
After all, the initiative to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank is based on Sharon's promise to Bush, Sharon's promise to the Israeli public (including the settlers), and the American government's commitment to Israel. And while the validity of letters and declarations exchanged between Bush and Sharon is being examined closely, the prime minister declares that words have no meaning. Why should Bush believe that the person who withdraws his promise to avoid harming Arafat will stick to his commitment not to build in settlements beyond areas already constructed, nor build a security fence around the Ariel salient? Why should the Likud voters, hearing their leader blowing off his promise to Bush, rely on his word that he plans and is capable of annexing to Israel the blocs of settlements? And why should Bush, who is confronted with the fact that it is not possible to trust the prime minister's word, remain committed to his stance to prevent, as much as possible, the implementation of the Palestinian demand for their right of return within Israel, or support Israel's demand to annex parts of the West Bank?
When Operation Defensive Shield was prolonged, Bush demanded that Sharon end it immediately. A proud man, Sharon did not heed the call. The American president publicly chastised the prime minister: "When I say immediately, I mean it." Sharon succumbed. Apparently, one can conclude that, also in this case, in view of the severe American response, Sharon will not dare harm Arafat. Not for sure: His nature may still get the best of him.