Thirty-four days to go and ribbons are not the only things flapping about in the summer breeze. There are also a lot of winks. The battle on Israel's future combines a resolute decision to evacuate Gaza with thick hints that this will be the last campaign against the settlements for a very long time to come.
The national prompter, the prime minister's adviser, Dov Weissglas, was the first to whisper from the boss's mouth that further pullouts after the disengagement will be "put into formaldehyde." Now the prime minister is firing automatic winks, conveying that there is nothing to fear; Gaza is doomed to be evacuated, but that's it. It resembles the not-so-old videocassette distributed this week by the settlers, showing Sharon, in a classic pose facing a settlement under the burning Gaza sun, saying: If they tell you to evacuate an apartment, tell them you will build another, send them home.
Even now, when they have come to loathe him, the settlers see Sharon as continuing the settlement bluff in the West Bank. The prime minister discarded the Talia Sasson report on the illegal outposts. Under the nose of the High Court of Justice, which has been asked to look into the issue, the government is ignoring the report's recommendation to immediately dismantle six of the 105 outposts set up over the years. Dismantle? The government is continuing to build them.
Weissglas also whispered from Sharon's mouth that the outpost removal must wait until after the disengagement "due to considerations of state affairs." But the prime minister's decision is motivated by the opposite of such considerations. The American road map demanded the removal of the outposts three years ago, so did the EU. Sharon's considerations are political and personal. He won't jeopardize his chances of reelection by angering his party's institutions.
These internally directed hints pertain to the entire range of relations with the Palestinian Authority. Israel's assassinations in the territories are continuing. Despite the drastic reduction in the attempts to carry out terror attacks, Israel attempted on Sunday to assassinate an Islamic Jihad member. The incident was published only in the Arab media.
By releasing hundreds of "lighter" prisoners, Sharon did far less than he could to contribute to the thawing of relations with the PA. His relations with Mahmoud Abbas are cool, as though he is angry with the PA chairman for dragging him into giving up Gaza.
The ongoing rupture of Jerusalem by building a wall through it, almost like separating Tel Aviv from Ramat Gan with roadblocks, is not a wise act, apart from the logic of "we'll show them." The wall will not prevent terror attacks in the mixed city. Perhaps it will even increase them, as a result of the suffering and hostility that it creates.
The most problematic wink is aimed at the orange struggle. The pogrom-like riots of the right-wing zealots and the preparations for an armed battle next month could have been stopped, were it not for the prime minister's inhibitions. What are the chances of overcoming tens of thousands of settlers when they have completed their preparations, if he is handling the right-wing's deployment so feebly now?
The U.S. and Europe, and of course the Palestinians, see Gaza as a step in a broader move. Sharon is already preparing for the battle to curb this move. According to sources close to Sharon, he underestimated the price he would have to pay for evacuating Gaza. The initiative was born, a source close to Sharon adds, soon after the joint interview of four former Shin Bet chiefs, who spoke of a "catastrophe" unless there was progress with the Palestinians.
Sharon protested even earlier against the threat of the road map, which sets 2005 as the year for establishing a Palestinian state and for ending the conflict. The continuation of this battle awaits him after the evacuation, and showing that the Palestinians are not keeping their commitments will not be enough.
These hints will not succeed in buttering up the settlers. The Likud's political situation is filled with warning lights - red, not orange - for Sharon. But real determination obliges him to stop the foreplay of winks and hints. With his numerous double messages, with his very own mouth, Sharon is increasing the danger of the critical weeks to come.
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