Text size

If the prime minister is having dizzy spells, there's no need for him to run to the doctor. His health has nothing to do with it. It's the ground shaking under his feet.

Not from a natural earthquake, but from the final gasps and groans of the status quo. From the death rattle of the policy of stalling that has guided Sharon's line of thinking, which boils down to the idea that as long as he and Bush are buddies everything is hunky-dory; that in a world of Islamic terror we are automatically associated with the good guys; that we've done our duty by mouthing platitudes like "we're prepared for painful concessions" and now we can rest.

Hopefully a good long rest, on the assumption that the Palestinians will never be able to make Sharon put his money where his mouth is. The main thing is to stay chummy with Bush. The main thing is that the Europeans are finally getting a taste of what life is like under the shadow of terror.

And then one morning the prime minister wakes up to find that he is still sticking to his guns but global public opinion has shifted against us. He sees that the Israeli public has lost its faith in his mythical brain and brawn, which were supposed to bring peace and security. He finds that marching in place, which he perfected to an art form, has done him in. He discovers that his popularity has begun to nosedive in the surveys. One morning, he wakes up to a hubbub of activity around him: Ayalon-Nusseibeh, the Geneva initiative, seminars in Madrid, meetings in London. Only he alone sits there twiddling his thumbs, as the status quo expires.

On the one hand, Sharon is under American pressure to take steps that will ease the lives of the Palestinians and give them a glimmer of light at the end of their dark tunnel. The U.S. administration is slashing loan guarantees, demanding that we stop work on the separation fence and freeze building activities in the settlements. Bush bawled out Israel in public when he was in London and voted in favor of the Security Council endorsement of the road map, which implies international management of the conflict - our deepest fear for generations.

On the other hand, Bush has elections on his mind right now. He'll be watching his step and won't twist Israel's arm or force it to accept an imposed solution in the coming year. If he is reelected, however, he is bound to be more aggressive. He and Blair have an explicit agreement that their partnership in the war on Islamic terror and the resolution of our conflict go hand in hand.

Europe is busy denouncing Israel in every possible sphere, and its sanctions and boycotts have given slumbering anti-Semitic sentiments a poke in the arm. Thanks to Sharon, we are the world's whipping boy again. The Palestinians are back to being the underdog and Israel is not a victim of terror but a heartless occupier.

An even greater tremor has been felt in Israel as the hopelessness and disastrous consequences of being at war have seeped into every realm of life, especially the economy. Meir Sheetrit recently summed it up in five words: This place is the pits.

Sharon's policy of sitting on the fence, spouting mantras about having no one to talk to and refusing to talk while bullets fly, but doing zilch when they stop, is not the will of the people. In their hearts, Israelis want an accord and are ready to make concessions.

The turning point came on September 9, when a group of reserve pilots, Israel's creme de la creme, wrote a letter expressing in their own way that things could not go on. The emptiness began to fill up with protests and action: the interview of the four Shin Bet heads, the chief of staff's remark that terror cannot be eradicated by force and the time has come for diplomacy, private initiatives and dialogue with the Palestinians. Even the Labor party has begun to show signs of miraculously rising from the dead.

With the pressure on him steadily mounting at home and abroad, Sharon has reached the point where the luxury of marching in place is no longer an option. Maybe he is bluffing again and maybe it's all tactics. But his talk about unilateral action, dismantling outposts and new plans he is supposedly putting together sound like the rumblings of a lion waking up from its nap. Real or not, when the ground trembles, even the king of the jungle knows it's time to get a move on.