Even as these lines are being written, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is staking his political life on his plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria (in the West Bank), no one knows where the prime minister is heading. Has the champion of the Jewish settlements in the territories, the person who 27 years ago promised that by the year 2000 at least 2 million Jews would be living in the occupied territories decided that there is no alternative but to revise his geographic vision and adjust it to the demographic reality? And perhaps the plan is nothing but a deception, whose entire purpose is to slough off, at the price of a relatively modest amount of real estate, nearly a million and a half Palestinians and perpetuate Israel's control of all the territories. There are those, among them senior government ministers from Sharon's own party, who are clinging to the belief that the birth of this move is in the sin of the Greek island.
Whatever Sharon's intentions concerning peace agreements might be, and whatever the results of this last move of his, the danse macabre around the disengagement plan has already made a public contribution of unparalleled importance. Sharon's hasty decision to enlist the support of president of the United States for a half-baked plan, his attempt to force the Likud ministers to ignore the results of the Likud members' referendum and finally the political haggling over a diplomatic-security plan are not a model of proper government. However, it was worth paying this price in order to remove the mask that for years now has concealed the true face of the Likud.
Sharon has done for the peace camp the work that Labor Party Chairman MK Shimon Peres has not wanted to do and that Yahad Chairman former MK Yossi Beilin has not succeeded in doing. The prime minister has proved that in the Likud leadership there is not sufficient support for what he calls "painful concessions," even when it involves the evacuation of Jewish settlements in the territories that are located outside "the settlement blocs." Those ministers and Knesset members who are opposed to conceding territories without a quid pro quo are just as stridently opposed to any negotiations with the Palestinians about security arrangements in the Gaza Strip. To Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Michael Ratzon's call for discussing the disputed issues with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, there has not been a peep in reply on the part of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sharon's vain efforts to pad his plan with international guarantees and to surround it with a separation fence indicate that the disagreement in the Likud is not a tempest in an empty teacup. Not to his political benefit, the prime minister has forced its ideological moment of truth on the Likud. Sharon would not be gambling on his political future if he did not believe, mistakenly, like many Likud voters, that most of his colleagues in the party leadership have also concluded that there is no peace with all the territories. Like them, he has learned the hard way that the top leadership of the Likud is not even ripe for a Bantustan plan in the style of South Africa in the days of apartheid.
In dismantling the Jewish settlements in Sinai, more than 20 years ago, Sharon gave the signal for the split in the Likud and the establishment of the Tehiya party headed by the opponents to the withdrawal, Yuval Ne'eman and Geula Cohen. His plan to dismantle the settlements in Gush Katif will sooner or later lead to another split in the party. The Likud in its current format has reached the end of the road, and not specifically because of all the ill will that has flowed in recent days between Sharon and Netanyahu, who is in a hurry to get back into the Prime Minister's Bureau.
The personal rift is a by-product of the ideological rift. Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin are Revisionists, not opportunists. If Netanyahu "reverts to his bad habits" and signs agreements like the Hebron agreement and the Wye Agreement, he will find them, along with the people of the "Land of Israel front," on the opposing side. Facing them, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have nothing to look for in the same party, not only because of, and not even mainly because of, the political reckonings. They cannot take back their statements regarding the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and from territories in the West Bank. Once they have left, or have been discarded like Yitzhak Mordecai and Dan Meridor, the Likud will be disengaged from the mask of a center party, and at long last the voter will be able to tell right from left.
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