Analysis / The Lion That Meowed

Last night, the true reason why Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not make a habit of addressing the public was finally exposed: He has nothing to say.

Last night, the true reason why Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not make a habit of addressing the public was finally exposed: He simply has nothing to say.

With speeches like these to the nation, it is doubtful whether England would have emerged whole from World War II, or whether the United States would have dragged itself out of the economic crash of 1929.

If what was termed "an address to the nation" last night left the concerned citizen without even the semblance of an answer to the question of "What will be?", then the questions-and-answers segment was simply embarrassing. Either Sharon is yet to fully recover from his bout of flu, or his self-confidence has been gnawed away.

Over the past 24 hours, his advisers set the stage; there were leaks about "surprises," "a new outline," and the like; but the size of the expectations was only matched by the depth of the disappointment. The lion meowed.

Sharon, who won a huge majority at the polls in light of his promises to restore personal safety and bring peace, appeared as if he had gripes with the public that put its faith in him. How is that "raucous voices and despair are rising from the public?" After all, we are speaking about "a long and difficult campaign in which there is a need for calm."

After all, it is clear that "there is no magical solution to this war," Sharon says, and the cynical citizen might have asked last night: Why didn't Sharon point out all the difficulties he listed last night before the elections?

It is difficult for you, but it is also tough for me, Sharon admits, promising: "We will emerge victorious because there is no other way." But he did not elaborate on how we will win and what we will win. The main thing, he says, is that we remain strong, and distance ourselves from struggles - an allusion to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The speech, which was a drab caricature of Churchill's "sweat and tears" address, demanded steadfastness and determination from the public. The last time Sharon spoke to the nation about "leadership determination" was in his budget speech, after which he gave in to his coalition partners and broke almost all his promises.

Last night, he praised the army, the shortcomings of which he lambasted the day before at the cabinet meeting. He said there would be no negotiations without a cease-fire, but promised to continue meeting with the Palestinians. And he promised to avoid allowing the situation to escalate into an all-out war not because of pressure from the United States, on the very day that the U.S. administration again condemned Israel for carrying out bombings in populated areas.

The only thing new in his speech was the phrase, "buffer zones for the purpose of a security separation," clearly hinting that these zones would not constitute a border line or involve the dismantling of settlements. Terror has forced Sharon into distinctly defensive steps that arouse associations with the security zone in South Lebanon.

The prime minister spoke last night in lofty words, but did not give the concerned citizen any horizon or any hope to cling to and shake off the despair.