It's Him or Us

The success of Sharon's tactics is evident from a certain ambivalence, even among his rivals, concerning the possibility that his term of office will be snapped, despite the considerable likelihood that this will happen.

Maybe it's part of the dark allure of the Sharon period, in which the question of the prime minister's survival is preoccupying the public and the media even more than the question of our future, of what will become of us. Okay, we ordinary citizens are buried up to our necks in terrorist threats, isolation, aimlessness and hopelessness (with a promise of "war for the next 20 years"); we're maybe already a lost case. But what about the main thing - what about Sharon? How will he survive? What will become of him? All the frights of the past three and a half years sometimes seem like the setting for the real plot, the gripping drama with its many twists and turns: Sharon's war to make his term of office last.

This week's episode in the soap opera continued to follow the regular script. In the first part, everyone "eulogizes" Sharon, shuddering at his fate and even summing up his career; but then, in the second part, our hero comes up with his latest survival stunt, which "turns everything around" for the umpteenth time. One time it's a targeted assassination; then it's another unfocused speech; or another "plan" without an arm or a leg to stand on; or another political trick or policy ploy, even apocalyptic escalation - depending on the prime minister's level of distress.

This week, for example, we got the episode entitled "Stratagem of referring the `disengagement' to a Likud members' poll, in reaction to the draft indictment of the State Attorney's Office." A week ago it was the "Shtick of killing Sheikh Yassin ahead of the Likud Convention." And, as in all the best soapers, the formula worked to perfection; even though - and maybe just because - it's so transparent.

Let's admit it: we have become addicted to this formulaic, routine series. We've become used to the winks, the ambiguity, the evasiveness; just as we have become accustomed to the terrorism, the political isolation and then general downturn in our lives, in which everything reduces to questions such as: When will Weisglass fly off to see Condoleezza again? When will we hear the next hollow boom? What will Sharon's next caper in the Knesset or the Likud be? And what will Gilad not say again in his next interrogation?

The success of Sharon's tactics is evident from a certain ambivalence, even among his rivals, concerning the possibility that his term of office will be snapped, despite the considerable likelihood that this will happen. As though in a trance, the public follows Sharon's false messianism, with its slogan: "By stratagems shall you make stratagems." The public is afraid of any alternative, without understanding that we are already living the alternative we should be afraid of.

Still, this weird period has to end some time, somehow, with a bang or a whimper. But is there anyone out there who is capable of guessing how Sharon's term of office will end? One of his "confidants" supplied food for thought this week, when he noted that hardly any Israeli prime minister ended his term well, but then promised, or threatened, that Sharon's fate will be completely different: "Anyone who knows him, knows that he will not give in." He will not resign and will not lose and will not quit even if he's indicted; he will not surrender - not to the Palestinians and not to the State Prosecutor's Office, not to the press and not to public opinion polls, not to cabinet ministers and not to Knesset members, not to the right and not to the left - and not even to the Central Committee of the Likud. This analysis inadvertently summed up the motto of the whole Sharon era: survival is the message, it is the vision. It is also the only explanation for his strange, highly damaging behavior.

Sharon is not the first or only prime minister who has fought tooth and nail for his personal survival, even at the price of causing national damage. But because his personality is somewhat anomalous even in our gallery of leaders, which is bizarre in itself, with him the war of survival takes on completely different dimensions. Precisely in Sharon's case there is possibly foundation for the concern of intelligence agents as to what their target will do "when his back is against the wall." The killing of Sheikh Yassin is only a first sign of the seriousness of the dangers.

Another Sharon survival tactic is to heap up future "plans," filled with conditions, each of which somehow depending for its implementation on his personality, and in fact on his survival. All of them are like hostages held for bargaining: if political harm befalls him, there will be no road map; if an indictment is filed, there will be no disengagement. And do you remember the Abu Mazen government and "I have found the solution to the terrorism"? Those, too, were personality-dependent "plans," which were concocted in a panic at a time of personal distress, and somehow faded away when the distress did.

Seemingly, no one is capable of cutting the false and lying Gordian knot that Sharon has created between himself and the "fate of the people of Israel." Nevertheless, Sharon, his megalomania notwithstanding, is not General Motors. Not everything that's good for his survival is necessarily good for Israel. Definitely not. Sometimes the very opposite is true. If he goes on being the deceiver, the magic will wear off one day, and then the nation will say: It's you or us (though even then it won't be clear which of the two will serve out the term).