Analysis / He's Decided but He Hasn't Yet Decided

Once, in 1999, the Center party was founded in Israel. It was known as the Prime Ministers' Party because of its four leaders, all of whom claimed the crown. One of them finished up as transportation minister and the second landed in the Tourism Ministry. As for the third and fourth, you can barely find them today.

The party Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to establish could be called the Ministers' Party. According to Sharon's plan, the party will include no fewer than 10 ministers, and another two or three people from outside, each of whom sees himself as a senior minister, if not a very senior minister in the third Sharon government.

Even if the most optimistic surveys hold true and Sharon establishes the next government, it's clear that at least half the current ministers will have to get used to the chilly feel of the back benches in the 17th Knesset.

Some of them won't be ministers anymore, even if they remain in the same parties, but in those cases there's at least a future beyond the next Knesset term, which will be Sharon's last term and the first and last term of his new party.

After Sharon, there will be no party. All the deserters will go home. Last night a close associate to the prime minister met with a senior political figure, it doesn't matter from which party. "Come with us," said the Sharon associate. "We're going to make history. Don't miss this opportunity." The political figure said no.

The figure was apparently faced with the question of fitting into the Arik party: the sixth or seventh spot is already in the dead zone. If the political figure runs in his or her own party, the figure's chances of getting a higher spot on the Knesset list and serving in the next government are not too bad. That's without Arik's favors, without having to beg Omri to put in a good word.

The prime minister's associates continued yesterday to say that Sharon has not yet decided. In the same breath, they accelerated the preparations for takeoff.

Yesterday's cabinet meeting resembled a typical closing scene of a show in the nonsense television series "Benny Hill," when the images are fast forwarded and all the characters circle each other. Yesterday morning Sharon met with the heads of the ultra-Orthodox factions. The Degel Hatorah faction members came with a recommendation from their rabbi: Don't quit the Likud, it won't be good for you.

Speaking to another ultra-Orthodox politician who told Sharon that Menachem Begin said he was nothing without the Likud, the prime minister replied: Yes, but they didn't do to him what they're doing to me. He was referring to the party "rebels," for whom he usually has far more explicit names.

Sharon decided over the weekend to quit the Likud, despite the difficulties in his path, but he has asked others to say he hasn't yet decided. Yet until an announcement comes from the Prime Minister's Office or from an authorized leak, it's as though nothing happened. Sharon decides only when he announces his decision.