The pending inclusion of the National Religious Party, with Effi Eitam at its head, in the government provides the code for deciphering the intentions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The man is not working toward peace with the Palestinians; faced with the choice between peace and the territories, he is choosing the territories.
Till now, Sharon's actions could have been interpreted in two contradictory ways: One - he has a hidden plan to defeat the Palestinian people and annihilate its nationalist aspirations, with the means for achieving this objective being to exploit the murderous terrorism of the Palestinians so as to stop them from going to war and force them into accepting a settlement that would preserve Israel's hold on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And two - his forceful measures are a no-alternative response to the ruthless Palestinian violence, and there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his statements with regard to his readiness to make "painful concessions" in the framework of a permanent settlement.
Throughout his first year at the head of the government, Sharon both reinforced and refuted both possibilities: There were periods of calm in the deadly Palestinian actions, with Sharon appearing not to exploit them so as to begin negotiations on some sort of settlement, and even coming up with ways to undermine them (the decisions to assassinate Abu Ali Mustafa, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud and Ra'ed Karmi, the insistence on personally humiliating Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, the prerequisite of seven days of quiet before implementation of the Tenet plan). And there were times in which he came across as someone who was going out of his way to achieve a cease-fire (the restraint following the terror attack at the Dolphinarium, the opportunity he afforded Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to hold talks with Arafat while the acts of terror continued, the flexibility he demonstrated two weeks ago in an effort to make a success of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni's mission).
There was a third way of interpreting the meaning of Sharon's behavior: He is a baffled prime minister, swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other, being borne on the waves of the events rather than stabilizing them, with his primary concern being his political survival.
And then, along came the weekend's developments and offered a clear key to understanding the approach of the prime minister: U.S. President George W. Bush voiced a statement that placed the mark of Cain on the forehead of Yasser Arafat, in that it distinguished between his criminal behavior as a leader and the distress of the Palestinian nation and its nationalist aspirations.
If Sharon were truly striving toward reconciliation, he should have taken a hold of this part of Bush's speech in order to attempt to implement an all-encompassing political step. He should have expressed a willingness to reach a settlement with the Palestinian people, but not with its current leader, including the territorial cost involved therein. Instead, Sharon ignored this part of Bush's speech, choosing rather to concentrate on the U.S. president's demand for an end to operation Protective Wall - and rejecting it.
A week earlier, the leaders of the Arab states adopted a decision that expresses a readiness to live in peace with Israel, in accordance with the 1967 lines, while playing down the demand for the right of return. Sharon did not grasp this statement to present a position that shows a willingness to begin negotiations on the basis of the principle of territories for peace, choosing instead to reject it offhandedly.
And as if that was not enough, along came Sharon's initiative to take the NRP into the government, as a direct response to Bush's speech and the decisions of the Beirut summit. This step can be seen as an expression of practical political considerations: the desire of the prime minister to guarantee his stay in power in light of the Labor Party's repeated threats to resign from the government.
And there is another way to understand it: It reflects his ideological perspectives. Sharon is declaring his preferences - the NRP to his right, with its new leader, who says that the existence of the two mosques on the Temple Mount is "a blight on the level of the state of the world, a point of chaos within the order of the world, and this point has a remedy, which will come, without a doubt."
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