The behavior of Minister Binyamin Elon, who has tried to dodge receipt of the prime minister's dismissal notice, says something not only about his character, but also about the depth of the state's current crisis. Israel is entangled in a governmental-constitutional crisis that can be resolved only by holding elections.
Ariel Sharon's declared intention of pulling out of the Gaza Strip and from northern Samaria has provoked expected difficulties: internal fracture, which is to be overcome by ideological debate and by political choice reached in a viable process whose outcome leaves no room for doubt.
If, after 37 years, Israel is asked to begin to leave the territories, it must undergo a process of internal review; without such a process, there is no way to resolve the current crisis without sustaining mortal injuries. But, given the current political alignment, there is no way this sort of process can get underway. That is because neither the Knesset nor the cabinet appears to represent the current state of public opinion; worse, the dominant political party, the Likud, is embroiled in an ideological muddle, which blocks it from playing its role as Israel's dominant political voice.
The Likud membership voted against the disengagement plan; meantime, the party's leader continues to support the plan. The majority of Likud ministers reject the plan, as do most coalition members; the opposition, however, supports the plan, even though it does not trust the prime minister. Sharon cannot realistically impose his will on the government and the Knesset, though he technically might have the wherewithal to do that. Sloppy maneuvers - such as the dismissal of ministers prior to a cabinet vote in order to guarantee an artificial majority - are no substitute for an orderly, substantive process whose main purpose is to produce a clear decision in the Likud Party, and among the public generally, about the future of territories to be involved in withdrawal.
Even though the last Knesset elections were just a year and a half ago, there is today no option other than asking voters to cast their ballots once again, because since January 2003, the scenario of evacuation of a significant number of settlements has become a viable possibility. It might be possible to continue to evade necessary domestic debate and review of this possibility via last-minute compromises such as the document Immigrant Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni has tried to draft, or by describing the current impasse as a personal power struggle, which can be bypassed one way or another.
If such temporary stratagems are used to circumvent the current crisis, reality will later spit in the face of the politicians. The Israel-Palestinian dispute is heading toward a stage in which Israel must make considered choices, and these decisions cannot be reached by the current coalition-opposition alignment; and the decisions must reflect the public's current outlook.
Debate and discussion about the disengagement plan among members of the right and left is needed not only to address matters now on the agenda. It is also needed to protect Israel's democracy against future convulsions. The political right's complaint about the arbitrary fashion by which Sharon is trying to impose his position upon the the Likud, the government and the Knesset is justified; this decision-making process must be done in a viable manner consistent with the political arena's rules of the game. Only a viable process will ensure that the political decision is clear and has incontrovertible legitimacy.
The integrity of the process must be established ahead of the next stops en route to a final decision about the future of the territories: these decisions must be reached in a political climate in which it is clear that the majority decides, and the minority accepts its decision.
Instead of trying to recruit a decisive majority for the disengagement plan, Sharon is attempting to snatch a decision. His conduct creates a dangerous precedent, one that will only nurture the right's opposition to the decision Sharon wants to reach in today's cabinet meeting, and to similar decisions in the future.
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