In the gale of threats and political agitation sweeping across the country like a hurricane, there is nothing more dangerous than the claim that Sharon has no mandate to implement the Gaza disengagement plan. Because when you say that the leader has no mandate, he is perceived as someone who has grabbed the reins by force. Hence, nothing he does is legitimate, and the people can rebel against him using any means, even assassination. It's not for nothing that the Shin Bet is on high alert to protect the prime minister. The settlers, the rabbis, the right-wing extremists, have turned the atmosphere in the Knesset on the eve of the critical debate on disengagement into that of a putsch, as they root for the political downfall of a leader elected by the majority.
The argument that Sharon has no mandate is not only malicious but groundless. No Israeli leader has ever enjoyed the kind of landslide victory, twice in a row, that Sharon has. He beat Barak by a margin of something like half a million votes. The second time around, he doubled Likud's strength from 19 seats to 38. Until today, there are MKs who are rubbing their eyes. They still can't believe they're in the Knesset.
In the political upheaval of 1977, Menachem Begin increased the Likud's power by four seats. In the elections of 1981, the Likud, headed by the man who made peace with Egypt, won the Nobel Peace Prize and bombed the nuclear reactor in Iraq, came out only one seat ahead of Labor.
In his election campaign, Begin did not hint that he was planning to give up Sinai, set a precedent for withdrawal to the `67 borders, or knock down settlements. Once in power, the high priest of the Greater Israel movement disappointed his flock by not annexing territories to Israel, as they had expected. Begin realized back then what Sharon realized later on - that what you see while sitting in the opposition is not what you see from the driver's seat.
When Sharon rose to power, the Al-Aqsa Intifada was in full swing. He needed time before he could look at the conflict with the Palestinians not only through a gunsight but through political binoculars. On May 23, 2001, the word "unilateral" entered his lexicon - by chance, in connection with a unilateral cease-fire. Sharon, a seasoned military man, began to grasp, as a civilian leader, that there were limits on fighting terror. And whatever he didn't grasp on his own, America explained to him.
By February 2002, Sharon was saying "there are no magic solutions." He spoke of "buffer zones" and preached that restraint was also a form of power. He coined the phrase "Israel will have to make painful concessions for peace." In the middle of 2003, he began to talk about how Israelis would not always be living where they were now - the first allusion to evacuating settlements. In December of that year, at the Herzliya Conference, he was already talking about a "redeployment of the army," and "relocating settlements that would not be on Israeli soil in any future accord."
Some political observers sneered at his remarks about the possibility of disengagement, portraying him as a cynical tactician who didn't mean what he said. But his metamorphosis continued to gain momentum. In February 2004, in an interview with Haaretz, Sharon dropped the bombshell about evacuating 21 settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. He needed time, but Sharon has ripened into a leader determined to carry out a plan that he believes is imperative, given our political situation, and in keeping with what most Israelis want.
These settler chiefs and fanatics, who have raised the banner of insurrection and are gearing up for Tuesday's Knesset debate as if it were war, have no mandate for anything. By what right are they pushing for civil war and paving the way for the next prime ministerial assassination? Who authorized them to speak in the name of whole country? For all we know, they don't even represent the entire settler population. Who authorized these rabbis to tell the political establishment what to do or not to do? Where do they get off, telling soldiers not to obey orders, as if this were some kind of ayatollah republic?
But this intimidation campaign against Sharon is not going to work. Sharon is not afraid. He is determined to win the approval of the Knesset and fully implement the disengagement plan. Sharon does have a mandate. You bet he does.
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