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Ariel Sharon is angered and insulted by the move in the Likud to remove him as head of the party and the government. His response is reminiscent of the tears shed by a crocodile while devouring his prey. The party is settling the scores with him for betraying its ideology and he is agitated and confounded as though a terrible injustice is being done to him.

Presumably the prime minister foresaw the difficulties he would encounter within his party on the day after the disengagement. But people who spoke with him after this latest revolt erupted in the Likud testify that he is hurt and frustrated by the harshness of the move, which represents a real threat to his status. Once again, Sharon did not take into account the response of those around him - colleagues and subordinates - and is feeling bitter and victimized.

Even the strongest pullout supporter must admit that Sharon's conduct toward his party, on the way to carrying out the disengagement, was infuriating. The party wants to punish its leader for his disgraceful treatment of them. He abandoned the fundamental principles of their faith and even more importantly, treated their demands with scorn, despite the warnings.

Not only did Sharon abandon his own positions, which corresponded with his party's political and security concepts, he arrogantly rejected the party's explicit order to refrain from carrying out his plan. Sharon promised to anchor the settlements' evacuation in a national referendum and reneged, arguing, justly, that it was too complicated constitutionally. He also undertook, against his will, to consult with Likud Party members, but ignored the outcome of the party referendum when it went against his plan.

Sharon has treated the Likud with disrespect, and now it's payback time. The party is doing the right thing by expressing its dissatisfaction with Sharon's attitude and its desire to reject his leadership.

It is characteristic of Sharon to oppose the threat to oust him not with arguments about values but about practicability and loss and gain. He is not telling Likud members that the pullout from the territories was necessary because of the corrupting influence the occupation has on Israel's society and international status. He is not trying to educate them to reject their outdated ideology and adjust to the country's security needs and political and demographic reality. He doesn't even address the rebels' complaints about the way he treated the party in preparing for the pullout. Instead, he is telling them about the benefits that come from being the ruling party and asking, What "normal" party gives them up of its own free will?

In other words, the Likud leader is not trying to persuade party members that he was right to reduce the scope of Jewish settlement in the territories, but is trying to tempt them with the personal and partisan perks inherent in ruling the country. By so doing, Sharon is leading the Likud toward complete moral corruption. He is as good as saying that his party openly declare that its main interest is in the perks and benefits it can glean from sitting at the state's steering wheel, and that its ideology is meaningless.

Swimming against the current can bring out a leader's finest qualities - if he can sweep his own party along with him, by convincing it his way is the right one. Menachem Begin did this after signing the peace treaty with Egypt, and Yitzhak Rabin did it after the Oslo Accords. This is exactly what Sharon is failing to do - he has not won the backing of his own party. Instead, he is supported by parties that disagree with the Likud.

The proper way to assert leadership in the party would be by defending his new political and security ideas. It was in the name of these concepts that he conceived and implemented the disengagement, and he must convince the party members and elected officials to back him. This is essential to distinguish between the Likud and the radical right. If Sharon fails to do so, he no longer has a place in the party.