I Heard You' Is All He Has to Say

It is very possible that tomorrow the members of the Likud convention will skewer Sharon a little, and make him walk barefoot on burning coals. But he has all the public backing he needs to look them in the eye, and say, "I heard you," and then proceed in precisely the opposite direction from the one they expect from him.

It's a good thing that the Shin Bet has beefed up security for Ariel Sharon, especially for the Likud convention tomorrow. The danger to the prime minister is more from home, his political home. People in suits and ties like Uzi Landau, who are caricatures of their founding fathers, and the gaggle of characters who don't know the difference between Jabotinsky and a shwarma and came out of nowhere to the Likud convention, hope for Sharon to evaporate from the face of the earth. They're anxious, because Sharon really does mean to start a process of withdrawal from the territories. Who does he think he is, the King of Israel?

The rebels in the Likud are reminiscent of those Japanese soldiers who would come out of the jungle wearing tattered uniforms and carrying rusty weapons, surprised to discover the war had ended 10 years earlier. We also have our blind spots where lurk those fanatics who haven't heard that the dream of the Land of Israel, both its banks, theirs and ours, was long since been shelved. The world changed, colonialism is over, human rights and self-determination have become inalienable assets of the free world. Even Sharon, the man who populated the territories with irreversible density, understands that the time has come to start the withdrawal, to cease controling another nation and to prepare to live alongside a Palestinian state.

Sharon was right when he said at a rally of Likud activists last Thursday that "the disengagement is the best and most proper thing for Israel, even though it is a painful decision." If he moved faster to execute his initiative, maybe he would avoid the uprising among the extremists of the Likud.

Uri Elitzur, the prime minister's bureau chief under Benjamin Netanyahu and one of the Yesha spokesmen, proposed over the weeked in Yedioth Ahronoth that Sharon be deposed lest he cause any more damage to Israel. I will never understand how the settlers' minds work when they say, for example, that evacuating settlements "will bring down Israel's stature in the world to the lowest levels," or "an agreement with the Palestinians will increase terror." Isn't the opposite the case?

Despite Elitzur's battle cries, I doubt whether the disengagement opponents in the Likud really want to bring down Sharon. After all, he doubled the number of their MKs in the last elections, and if new elections were held now, many of them would not return to the Knesset. All they want right now is to clip his toes and fingers a little, so he isn't so powerful, so he doesn't go too far. None really has an alternative to his direction, because the occupation and social concern won't ever go together. Those who shackle Sharon take on an enormous responsibility for Israel's fate.

Although there are only four scheduled speakers at the convention, two from each side before Sharon sums up, the discussion could be stormy, and the rebels are hoping that they win a vote because they focused the debate only on their objection to Labor joining the government. That's an easy issue, from several aspects. Labor's not at all popular, especially not in the Likud - who in the Likud wants to share their portfolios with greedy-eyed Labor? But Sharon will do what he thinks fit. "We who were victims of the `no Herut, no Maki' ban will not ban," he'll say tomorrow night.

In principle, Sharon has a right to say that, until the Knesset topples him, he has a mandate to conduct his policies, including the disengagement and evacuating settlements. After all, he promised in the election campaign in the name of the Likud, from every stage and to every microphone, that he would form a national unity government, and also lead a peace process that would include painful concessions.

Nobody in the Likud disputed him, and most of the people gave him their support. Some 925,000 voters chose him and his way, and he doubled the size of the Likud. He is the elected leader, and as long as he has the trust of the Knesset he is both captain and navigator.

It is not logical that the 3,000 members of the Likud convention, whose goals and integrity are unclear, will dictate to him what he can do and how to do it.

It is very possible that tomorrow they will skewer him a little, and make him walk barefoot on burning coals. But he has all the public backing he needs to look them in the eye, and say, "I heard you," and then proceed in precisely the opposite direction from the one they expect from him.