It took less than six months in civvies for Shaul Mofaz to learn that "let the IDF win" is a bankrupt doctrine.
His support now for a political option is only one sign the defense minister understands that the occupation threatens more than the security of Netanya's residents. As a senior member of the government, Mofaz must take a peek at the shrinking budgets in education and health.
The Bank of Israel's research department estimates the intifada's cost at NIS 14.6-17.9 billion. That's a result of dramatic drops in gross local investment, private consumption, and exports, while defense expenditures rise. It explains the connection between rising unemployment in Jenin and rising unemployment in Ofakim, the curfew in Nablus and the strike in Nazareth. Another year or two of conflict in the territories won't leave the government anywhere to cut from.
The economic situation is beginning to do to the "soft" right what the political, security, and moral price didn't do during the years of "enlightened" occupation. Ariel Sharon keeps saying, in private conversations and public statements, that there's no way out of the mess without a political arrangement. He knows the cheers greeting the signals from Washington regarding delays in releasing the official road map are going to be short lived.
And assessments that Bush would prefer to betray his friend from the British Labor party, Tony Blair, rather than upset his friends on the Christian and Jewish right, also haven't let Sharon heave a sigh of relief. When the pot's boiling at home, there's no need for pressure from the outside to put out the fire.
The problem with Sharon and his cohorts on the right has always been that their political horizon doesn't even come close to the political horizons of moderate Palestinians like Dr. Sari Nusseibeh. At most, the current composition of the Sharon government allows it to negotiate corrections to the road map. Even if the government allowed three cantons to be crowned with the title "independent state," that's as far from Palestinian expectations as the distance from Gaza to South Africa.
If the National Religious Party isn't going to quit the government because Ehud Olmert took the Sabbath inspectors out of the malls, they'll leave on the day the government is asked to put the American inspectors into the territories. The National Union has already warned the frozen settlements article in the road map will send them back to the opposition.
Luckily for the prime minister, most of the Labor faction in the Knesset would be delighted to upgrade to the softer seats of Ministers Avigdor Lieberman, Benny Elon and Effi Eitam. Amram Mitzna is issuing distress signals from the party chairman's office in Tel Aviv's Hatikva Quarter. The war in Iraqi hasn't turned up a launcher that would send Mitzna into an "emergency government." The road map, and a series of humanitarian "gestures" that will accompany the presentation of Abu Mazen's government, will be his chance to join a "peace government."
It became evident during the process of forming the coalition that Sharon responds well to varying pressures, as proven by the appointment of Silvan Shalom as foreign minister and the loot that ended up in Ehud Olmert's lap. The socio-economic crisis is taking the place of the settlers on the map of the prime minister's pressure points. And with the economic crisis comes the need for partners for a political process.
In his contacts with Sharon, before the government was formed, Mitzna deigned to shelve his promise not to enter a Sharon government that doesn't begin withdrawing from Gaza. Since then, his personal political position has been eroding and with it, the other promises are now threatening to fade.
The question is not whether Sharon will soon be proposing to the Labor Party that it return to the government, but under what political conditions it would agree to do so. Will it pose a timetable for serious negotiations about an end to the occupation, or give in promiscuously to empty slogans like "painful concessions?" Will the party that calls itself Labor once again give up the "social" portfolios for Shaul Mofaz's job just when the defense minister is beginning to catch on that there's a connection between security and economics?
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