With or Without Him

Sharon holds the key. If he doesn't have the sense to use it correctly, someone else will implement the required internal reforms and carry out the disengagement.

These days, ahead of the "fateful" vote on the state budget, almost everyone I encounter asks me if Shinui is really going to vote against the budget, thus causing elections to be brought forward and the disengagement plan to be scuttled. The dilemma is certainly a tough one. But if one analyzes the situation with a cool head, the answer should be self-evident.

In 1992, at the height of the first intifada, the Israeli public put Yitzhak Rabin at the helm because it had had enough of the hardline and uncompromising approach adopted by Yitzhak Shamir. In early 1999, the public voted Ehud Barak into office and toppled Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, which won only 19 Knesset seats, because a large majority wanted rapid progress in the peace process.

The Likud and Ariel Sharon, however, had luck on their side, because Yasser Arafat remained the undisputed leader of the Palestinians, and instead of reaching an acceptable compromise, as proposed by Barak, Arafat initiated harsh acts of violence. When the Palestinians sent suicide bombers into Israel, the public's natural response was a shift to the right. And against this backdrop, one can understand Barak's downfall in 2001, and the crushing defeat suffered by Amram Mitzna in 2003.

Now, something is changing among the Palestinians. They now appear willing to come to an agreement and strike compromises. Under such circumstances, whoever is serving as Israel's prime minister will have to make "painful concessions." The Sharon government has approved the disengagement plan and enacted the Evacuation Compensation Law. Therefore, any government that follows, including one that is not headed by someone from the Likud, will be able to implement the pullout plan.

Under such circumstances, the claim that "only Sharon can" - an offshoot of the slogan, "Only the Likud can" - rests on a mistaken notion. Were Labor a party with backbone, it would not be prepared to adopt such a premise. By doing so, it denies itself any right to be an alternative. Were Labor concerned with the fate of the secular public, it would not agree to Sharon's absolute capitulation to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox. It would demand Shinui's inclusion in the government, just as Shinui demanded at the time that Sharon include Labor.

The disengagement is important and will eventually take place - with or without Sharon. If Sharon continues to grovel at the feet of the ultra-Orthodox, if he carries on dishing out millions of shekels to United Torah Judaism, if he persists in sending his ministers to Ovadia Yosef, and if he and his party keep torpedoing the agreements they reached with Shinui with regard to civil marriages and the conscription of yeshiva students, don't expect Shinui's support for the budget or anything else.

Sharon can secure Shinui's support for the budget, but this entails meeting at least some of our demands. If they aren't met, we will vote against the budget.

Sharon holds the key. If he doesn't have the sense to use it correctly, someone else will implement the required internal reforms and carry out the disengagement.

The writer is a Shinui MK.