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Twenty-seven years after the first swing of the government to the right, it is not impossible that in 2004 the second power turnaround in the history of the country will begin. Even though the next elections are set for 2007, it is doubtful that the present coalition will last beyond next year. At a time of the total collapse of all the government systems and of values, when grandfathers and fathers are continuing to bury sons and grandsons, and terror is being called "the routine of terror attacks," 2004 is ripe for a turnaround. The year of the fall.

Why now and not a year ago? Because our history teaches that the public's political digestive system is very slow. Its loyalty is greater than its urge to punish a failed government right away. Like they do in Brtain, for example. The Alignment (or Ma'arach, the precursor of the Labor Party) was reelected three months after the terrible blunder of the Yom Kippur War. It took 29 years, eight election campaigns, an accumulation of failures, thousands of dead in the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, corruption in the top echelons of government and a public revolt for the voter to be ripe to punish the Alignment. Israel could not believe its ears when at one minute past 10 P.M., television newscaster Haim Yavin declared: "Gentlemen, an upheaval!" A late, but fatal punishment.

For the 27 years since then, during which time the Likud has been setting the tone in government, it has focused on setting up Jewish settlements in the territories that have been aimed at creating an irreversible situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in the eyes of the world we became occupiers and oppressors. This accelerating decline began with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's obdurate and brutal policy during the period when we were offered diplomatic initiatives. The economic, social and security situation is disastrous. But the public has been in no hurry to punish its leaders. On the contrary: In the elections that were held in January of this year on the ticket of peace and personal security, the Likud swept up a million votes, twice as many as Labor. With the enormous backing Sharon received in his two elections, he could have made huge changes, but instead he continued with his tough, uncompromising policy of terror versus terror.

The year 2003 will be remembered as one of the worst years this country has known. Israel is on the list of the countries that endanger peace in the world, and the issue of the separation fence has been passed along to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The intifada and the suicide attacks have wreaked destruction in all areas of life. Crime is rampant and public corruption has reached Sharon's doorstep. The situation of the individual in every area has become worse than it has ever been. Sharon's policy is leading to a dead end with blood and fire on the horizon. It is no trivial thing when past and present heads of the Shin Bet security service say in public that it is not within the power of the defense system to "win." Or when combat pilots and men from the elite Sayeret Matkal special operations unit refuse to serve in the territories because, in their opinion, the occupation corrupts. Ferment is bubbling and seething at all levels with respect to a prime minister about whom there are question marks concerning his ability to function. In the prevailing sense that things cannot go on like this, there is no doubt that the government turnaround is simmering beneath the surface.

To the obvious question of who will replace Sharon, the answer is simple: A. We do not have a new Charles de Gaulle. B. We do not have a natural candidate. But contrary to what is usually thought, apart from Levi Eshkol who was the natural successor to David Ben-Gurion, there has never been a natural successor in this country to any prime minister. Golda Meir, the most hated woman in the country in her day, was appointed as Eshkol's successor in order to maintain the rule of the old-timers in the Alignment. When she resigned as prime minister under the pressure of public opinion, Yitzhak Rabin was plucked - a total surprise - from the Ministry of Labor to be prime minister in order to block Shimon Peres. Yitzhak Shamir was elected as Menachem Begin's successor, only because he was there. Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Ehud Barak nor Ariel Sharon was a natural candidate. All three got elected thanks to their ambition and their organization under the misconceived direct election system.

The next leader is unknown. Call him Mr. X, if you like. But potentially he exists. When the public ferment, the various organizational efforts and the dissatisfaction with the situation ripen into a burning desire to punish the failed regime by toppling it, the person will be found to lead this turnaround.