The Poverty Line vs. the Security Line

In his next lesson with his private Russian tutor, Amir Peretz better learn the words for "terror," "security," "counter terror" and so forth. In the coming month, they will be more useful than expressions like "poverty," "minimum wage" and even "peace." Ariel Sharon will not allow an adversary to wage the battle in the sector where he - seasoned warrior that he is - has an inferior position. Sharon did not beat Ehud Barak with his economic platform. He did not overcome Amram Mitzna on the strength of his concern for the weak. Instant war-on-poverty programs will not make the wealthy rancher more "social-oriented" than the Labor leader from Sderot. He isn't leading the polls (with or without the Likud) because voters believe in his yearning for a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Everyone understands that if Sharon were truly interested in furthering the road map, a plan whose core involves negotiating a permanent status agreement, he would not evade meeting with the leader of the partner to that agreement. The widespread support for the disengagement from the Gaza Strip indicates that the public does not back Sharon because of concern for the settlements.

Sharon assumed power thanks to disappointment with the Oslo process, the Palestinian uprising and, mostly, the threat of terror. He was elected prime minister to subdue the Palestinians and bring security to Israel's citizens. Terror is the last refuge from evacuating outposts and entering a political process that would oust him quickly from the prime minister's office. The cycle of foolishness of attacks and alerts, targeted assassinations and arrests, guarantees security's spot at the top of the agenda.

Security tensions grant Sharon a critical advantage in running against Peretz. Voters who are anxious about the fate of a child who is late again when returning home from the mall, will forget that waiting at home are unemployed parents with an empty refrigerator.

The preference for taking unilateral steps over negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is a gift to religious extremists, who have declared war on the Oslo process and its offshoots. As if it weren't enough that he refused to coordinate the disengagement with the leadership of Fatah, strengthening Abbas' status, Sharon imposed a lengthy siege on Gaza and left it an empty vessel. In the end, under heavy pressure, he handed the achievement over to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Jerusalem Middle East expert Matti Steinberg, adviser on Palestinian matters to the two previous heads of the Shin Bet security service, says Israel has missed the opportunity to make the disengagement into a stimulus for reaching an overall arrangement. He mentions that Hamas was worried by public opinion polls that indicated increasing support among residents of the territories for mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the capital of the Palestinian people.

Steinberg warns that all the water in the Jordan River won't be enough to put out the fire Hamas will ignite in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The flames from the west will reach Amman and merge with the fire of the Al-Qaida terror attacks. He would not be surprised if - in order to face the threats from Abu Musab al-Zarkawi - King Abdullah has to rely on the Muslim Brotherhood. The distance from there to Hamas is very short. Instead of augmenting the tremors that are afflicting the region, in part by the hasty democratization U.S. President George W. Bush is trying to force on the Arabs, Israel should have served as an isle of stability, Steinberg protests. According to him, the Iranians are the principal beneficiaries of the chaos to which Israel generously contributes, and the Iranian sense of power has led to their president's manifest threat of Israel's annihilation.

It's a fair assumption that what the average Middle East expert knows is not lost on the prime minister as he fans the flames. Naturally there is no proof he's doing this on purpose, but there is also no sign he's doing anything to the contrary. Either way, if a citizen from Sderot needs a tutor in security, he shouldn't look for him at Sycamore Ranch.