Cut From Good Cloth

It's Mofaz's right to fight for a place among the top tiers of the Likud. But what is regrettable is that instead of coming up with a new approach, he's joined the "nobody to talk to" chorus.

Shaul Mofaz's leap straight from the position of chief of staff to defense minister was, to use the Hebrew vernacular, a foox - a stroke of luck. Ariel Sharon's original plan was to appoint Ehud Barak defense minister; but political developments sabotaged that plan. Thus, from one day to the next, Mofaz became, some say on the advice of Dov Weissglas, the first defense minister who was not an MK, with no political base. Even the suit he wore to the welcoming ceremony in the Defense Ministry courtyard was too big for him.

It took a few years for him to finally get a suit tailored to his dimensions. Its black color, like Sharon's suits, symbolized his absolute identification with the prime minister. Both had the same approach - not very typical of the history of relationships between defense ministers and prime ministers in this part of the world. To a large extent, Mofaz was Sharon's shadow - hard when Sharon was hard, soft when Sharon was soft. He was in favor of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza that Sharon thought up, even though as chief of staff he opposed Ehud Barak's proposal for a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon. During that dispute, he envisaged the darkest forecasts of what would happen as a result of the withdrawal; but as chief of staff, he executed it flawlessly, and in one night.

As defense minister, he has done all that Sharon has wanted; but the more suspicious could say that without a political base in the party and not being an MK, his loyalty to the chief was the default. As someone who had been in and out of defense ministers' offices and heard quite a bit of cursing of prime ministers under whom they served, I found in Mofaz extraordinary loyalty to Sharon. I don't think anyone caught him uttering a bad word or any gossip about the number one.

But finally it happened. Last week, Mofaz threw his hat into the ring. With the Likud primaries at the gates, and Bibi trying to bring down Sharon, a big gardener grew up in the garden. Maariv discovered that Mofaz had expressed open criticism of Sharon - once when he claimed that Sharon had made a mistake when he agreed to the Likud referendum on the pullout, and then again when he ignored its results. At the same time, Yedioth Ahronoth revealed in its Friday edition with its banner headline that "the defense minister is despairing of Abu Mazen... that there's nobody to talk to... that we'll never reach peace with the Palestinian leadership... that we have to wait for another generation."

Headlines like those, when the entire world is full of expectation from Israel, appeared soon after Mofaz struck a deal with the offices of Motti Morel, who specializes in running candidates for prime minister. A source close to Mofaz says that it's only natural that Mofaz is preparing to campaign for his place on the Knesset list. The move, heaven forbid, is not a challenge to Sharon, who is in a much stronger position than it appears from the outside, but a deployment against Netanyahu as the default for leadership of the Likud.

It's Mofaz's right to fight for a place among the top tiers of the Likud. But what is regrettable is that instead of coming up with a new approach, he's joined the "nobody to talk to" chorus. If we want to reach an agreement, we can't afford the luxury of waiting for the next generation. The existing situation must be optimized. It's not fair to Abu Mazen that we put him in the same ranks with Arafat, who didn't want to make a deal with us from the outset. Abu Mazen wants, but isn't strong enough, and we have to give him strength - namely, carry out unilateral moves, not for the purpose of "disengagement" in the sense of "take it and choke on it," but instead for the purpose of creating the hope among his people that he can deliver the goods. We need to prove that we have the power to evacuate outposts by force, without Israel Defense Forces officers coming out of it with black eyes.

Alongside abatements and benefits, there is no need to turn freeing prisoners into a bargaining card, but rather to free them in a measured fashion, as goodwill gestures. With our hand on the faucet, we can open it without giving up the demand that the Palestinian Authority do what it must do to counter terror. Waiting for "the next generation" is an invitation to war and a luxury we cannot afford. Fundamentally, Mofaz is cut from good cloth; his glory will not be built on extremism and zealotry.