Trust me, Zevulun Orlev said to the National Religious Party rabbis, I know what I'm talking about: He won't evacuate settlements. So why should we pull out of the government? Let's wait. Party chairman Nissan Slomiansky nodded his head; Effi Eitam looked like he had bitten into a lemon. The rabbis of the increasingly Orthodox party aren't fools, heaven forbid. In a similar conversation this week, they leaned toward accepting Orlev's procrastination proposal. The NRP will wait to see how, with the grace of God, Sharon will refrain from harming a single hair on the heads of the settlers on the land of Gaza. And thus, the government has been put on hold - and with a future Ltd.
If you have a look at the crushed politics of Israel - a rather horrifying view - you'll notice a surprising fact: The only component of the coalition that supports carrying out the disengagement is Shinui, the one and only non-splintered party. The prime minister promised to preserve the covenant among the Betarites of divided parties; but as the NRP rabbis know, this covenant was not struck by the Holy One, blessed be He. It is recorded in invisible ink, which will be revealed or erased at Sharon's will. The prime minister has no one else to rely on but Shinui leader Yosef Lapid, his close friend, Ehud Olmert, and a handful of Likud ministers. The strength of this support depends, to a decisive extent, on Lapid, who never imagined he'd so quickly find the fragile balance of power in his hands.
This is where he is now - in a powerful position. He must exploit it, and not allow it to slip out of his grasp, too. On Monday, the sworn anti-cleric was quick to voice a somewhat surprising wish: He hopes that the increasingly Orthodox national movement won't resign from the coalition. What is Lapid looking for in the graveyard of the best of principles? He explained that he didn't want to see the return of Shas and United Torah Jewry. But Lapid has another course to take, aside from the path of hostility toward Shas; he can, and indeed must, do all he can now to implement disengagement from Gaza without delay.
The resignation of the NRP on the way to this is inevitable; and Lapid has no reason to oppose it. The choice facing the government is a simple one - either disengagement and the dismantling of the settlements, or the historical settlers' party. Lapid didn't make mention of Rabin's brilliant trick in 1976 - the firing of three NRP ministers that ended in the mahapach, the power change. Others again recalled the dismissals as near mythological proof that a government that ousts the NRP is doomed to disaster. This argument is groundless. The right was on the verge of undergoing a revolution, the NRP was completely different at the time, and Labor had come to the end of its reign in any event. The Likud of today is the ruling movement that has exhausted its agenda. Its - and Lapid's - only chance to delay the end for now (and therefore to lend a hand to a withdrawal from Gaza) is the non-flashy ousting of the incorrigibly recalcitrant party.
When he wants to, Lapid knows how not to wait. He didn't wait longer than an hour to accept the offer to head Shinui, and he quickly and skillfully carried it into the heart of the governmental establishment. And he knows that there is an alternative to the NRP. If he insists and forces Sharon - without putting him on hold - to uphold what remains of the disengagement plan, he will be ushering the religious camp out the door and allowing Labor to join.
This, too, is an option that requires blocking up one's nose to the offensive odor. But a man like Lapid, who wants the disengagement and the dismantling of the settlements (and understands that the option of new elections doesn't exist under the current circumstances), has no other path to this end other than eliminating the internal contradictions within the coalition. Following the resignation of the National Union rejectionists, the next necessary step is the NRP's departure. How? Only if Lapid demands anew to bring forward the date for the start of the evacuation, despite too hastily agreeing to putting it off till next year.
Is this a new crisis? Yes, most definitely. Should it frighten Lapid? No, it shouldn't - not to someone who can bring down the government with his resignation; not someone who really wants the old Palestinian woman, in the likeness of his grandmother, to stop picking her way through the gutters of Gaza into a future on hold in vain.
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