Ambiguous National Responsibility

The person dismantling the Likud must provide a weighty motivation for doing so; the bothersome existence of the Likud Central Committee and the bargaining culture of the parliament are not good enough reasons.

The enthusiasm surrounding Ariel Sharon's decision to leave the Likud blurs one's vision; the prime minister has not presented a clear political policy and has not given convincing ideological reasons for establishing a new party. All he said at the Monday night press conference was "Life in the Likud has become unbearable" and "The Likud in its present form cannot lead Israel to its national goals." What those goals are and how Sharon plans to reach them - the answers to these questions remain in the realm of the unknown.

When a person with Sharon's status and in his post takes a step with the might of a political earthquake, he must justify his action with persuasive reasons: Why is he initiating this change? What does he plan to achieve by it? Sharon did not provide answers. The message of his comments is contempt for the Likud, for the restrictions it places on its leaders, for the trouble involved in dealing with it. One can understand his revulsion, but it is hard to be convinced that is enough to dismantle a party. Participation in democracy entails bothersome necessities, like forming coalitions, placating allies, fawning and participating in exhausting debates. It appears that Sharon has had enough of this; at the press conference, he announced that he plans to work to change the government.

This is not a new idea: When he was the adviser to then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1975, he put forth a comprehensive proposal along similar lines, which primarily gave extensive authority to the prime minister, who would be elected directly by the people and would not be dependent on the Knesset and parties. Sharon repeated this idea during the election campaigns for the eighth and ninth Knessets. Is Sharon, who has repeatedly been portrayed as someone using his premiership to compensate himself for past losses, trying to fulfill this dream of his? In any event, the new political framework Sharon is now establishing requires substance; the public is entitled to know what reason he has for asking it to place its confidence in him once again. Waving the road map as his political flag is not sufficient; it's too vague and unclear.

In another four months Sharon wants to sit in the prime minister's seat once again. What does he plan to do so as to advance relations with the Palestinians and exempt Israel from the punishment of the occupation? Will he wait idly for an initiative from the other side? What are the state borders he is drafting? What is the extent of the "settlement blocs" and "security zones" he is talking about? And if the Palestinian Authority does not meet the conditions he sets, will he perpetuate the current situation? Why does he reject additional withdrawal from the start, even if it is unilateral?

One can say that the explanations Sharon gave in his announcement about quitting the Likud (and also comments he made at the first conference of his new party Monday afternoon) are meant to provide the general public with as simple an explanation as possible and are not necessarily an organized reflection of his politics. That is, he is trying to attract a wide range of citizens - from the moderate left to the center and the moderate right - and therefore he is refraining from presenting clearly conciliatory positions. This is not a sufficient excuse. One of the Likud's failures was its ideological obfuscation; what, therefore, is the advantage of the new party, if it repeats the faults of the mother party? In addition, the public deserves the truth so that it can decide among clear alternatives.

Throughout his entire life, Sharon has destroyed his undertakings: So it was in Unit 101, the Shlomtzion party, the settlements and now, the Likud. The reason given for all of these acts of destruction was national responsibility - a reason that did not rid Sharon's colleagues of the feeling that Sharon was betraying them. The person dismantling the Likud must provide a weighty motivation for doing so; the bothersome existence of the Likud Central Committee and the bargaining culture of the parliament are not good enough reasons.