A Year of Sharon's Vision

In the time he has left, and with his party's stamp of approval, Sharon must do his job and save both Israelis and Palestinians the sorrows of the continuing conflict.

Likud voters and members of its institutions, like its representatives to the Knesset and government, must start learning a new song by heart: no more "two banks to the Jordan" but the anthem to guarantee the fulfillment of the Zionist vision in the vicinity of the Green Line. That is the real meaning of Ariel Sharon's victory in this week's vote in the central committee, and that is the duty now imposed upon him as a result of that achievement: to pour practical content into the concept he presented to the members of the central committee and that won their support. Any other interpretation given to the decision will distort its meaning.

Despite the claims of Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau, the dispute when the results of the voting at the Exhibition Grounds became known was not over a technical issue - when to hold the early elections for leadership of the Likud - but over the party's course. Raising the very demand to convene the center and to make it vote on a proposal to advance the primaries was derived from a desire to challenge Sharon's leadership due to the disengagement.

Netanyahu and Landau, who positioned themselves as contenders to lead the Likud, represent a political line diametrically opposed to Sharon's. They oppose giving up any control over the Greater Land of Israel, and they reject all the many considerations the prime minister brought up to explain his initiative to quit the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.

The positions expressed by Sharon over the last three years - acceptance of the establishment of a Palestinian state, readiness for "painful concessions," recognition of the burden that the occupation places on Israeli society, and execution of the withdrawal plans from areas that had been under Israeli control - all outraged them and contradicted their beliefs. Both Netanyahu and Landau, with differing measures of consistency and credibility, went to the central committee members in the name of the anarchic ideology of the Likud, which draws its validity from the doctrines of Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Sharon called on them to choose another platform and they decided in his favor. From now on the Likud leadership and all its members have to internalize the updated worldview - which, as Netanyahu claims, is more reminiscent of Labor, if not Meretz, than of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir.

Sharon also has to plant deep in his soul his declared positions and translate them into the language of practical politics. From now on he has the moral and political backing to lead his party, his government and the entire country on the path he has laid out. These are the watershed moments that took place in the last two weeks: In the UN speech, he reached out "to our Palestinian neighbors in a call for reconciliation and compromise to end the bloody conflict, and to embark on the path that leads to peace and understanding between our peoples." He said he regards that as his "calling and primary mission for the coming years," and announced that he recognizes that for such a purpose, "we have to make concessions for the sake of peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors."

Moreover, Sharon stated that "the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean ignoring the rights of others in the Land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them. They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own." He once again committed to the road map and to the Sharm el Sheikh understandings.

In the speech he did not get to deliver to the Likud Central Committee, Sharon did not leave any doubt about his political plan: to give the Likud the status of a peace-seeking centrist party that is ready for painful concessions; sticking to the road map; and recognizing the constraints of reality and therefore accepting the need to concede territories held by Israel. His goals are concrete: guaranteeing Jerusalem's unity, construction of the security fence, and strengthening the large settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley.

Sharon is being asked to get up tomorrow morning and roll up his sleeves to make the vision he laid out to the entire world and his party come true, quickly and efficiently. He has a year in office left to meet his commitment. Now that he has the approval of his party, his job is to fulfill his vision and save both Israelis and Palestinians the sorrows of the continuing conflict.