Just One Last Withdrawal

From now on, everything is being mobilized for a second withdrawal, which may or may not happen.

Again, we need to keep silent. Because as soon as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began his political race in Kadima, we had to be careful not disturb him.

Don't speak about the evacuation of unauthorized outposts, about stopping the targeted killings and, please, don't shout that Mofaz, now in Sharon's court, is handing another few hundred housing units to settlers or has retroactively approved residential neighborhoods.

And it is also forbidden to protest when Israel does not comply with the "convoy agreement" - the Palestinian Bab-al-Wad [the narrow mountain pass leading to a besieged Jerusalem during the War of Independence] that would liberate Gaza residents a bit from the blockade of Gaza en route to the closure in the West Bank.

Only strong American pressure succeeded in bringing about a small change, and Israel agreed to open one gate. Only one and only for a week.

From now on, everything is being mobilized for a second withdrawal, which may or may not happen. But this is not the main point. After the public announcement of the first withdrawal, it took nearly a year for the public to really believe it would happen. But now we already believe in Sharon's sincerity, credibility and ability to carry out another withdrawal in the territories. Not only this, we are captives of this belief - even when he says it isn't so, when he announces there will be no more withdrawals, when he promises to the same Mofaz that he will continue to serve as defense minister. Before the disengagement plan was actually implemented, it was enough to utter the word "disengagement" to bring one to salute Sharon's courageousness. Even if he had not executed the plan, his very readiness to do so was considered an accomplishment. It symbolized, at least, the shattering of the Sharon-Likud ideology of Greater Israel.

Now it is much easier. After all, if Sharon has already shattered this ideology, the main barrier has been removed, and there is no reason in the world for him not to continue on to a second withdrawal. It is no longer a question of faith and vision, but "only" a technical and economic matter. We'll just recover a bit from the cost of the withdrawal from Gaza - an estimated NIS 9 billion - and Sharon will get to work on the dismantling of the next settlements. Just one more moment, we'll just get past the elections and the next withdrawal will already be imminent.

According to public opinion surveys, the promise Sharon represents is what gives Kadima the largest number of Knesset seats of all the parties. Sharon, the surveys also say, will be the next prime minister. It can be said, therefore, that it is the Sharon of the disengagement who now receives the majority of votes, "Sharon who can do it," and not "Sharon who makes promises."

And there are those who have compared him to the de Gaulle of France's withdrawal from Algeria. If so, then it is a Sharon who not only crushes the Likud but who could also obliterate the strength of Labor by uttering a few simple words. If he were only to say that another withdrawal would come after the elections, and that he is indeed prepared to gather the settlers in several blocs - unilaterally, bilaterally or trilaterally - and thus resolve the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian border.

And here a wee bit of doubt seeps in. Sharon does not say these things explicitly and even denies any such plan. The public will have to wait, therefore, for the next trick to emerge from the magician's hat, to guess who will be its next prime minister - "Sharon withdrawal" or "Sharon outposts."

And how can one demand that he speak explicitly during an election campaign?

It would be best to pause a moment, to catch our breath and wipe away the sweat of excitement that is blinding our vision. Even after the disengagement, it would still be best to ask this client for the goods before delivering payment at the ballot box in advance.

For example, to ask him to clarify what exactly is the road map he promises to implement? With whom will he agree to implement it if he does not plan to carry out another disengagement? And what does he plan to do with the unauthorized outposts, which must not be mentioned now out of respect for the next disengagement? No answer? Then there is also no reason to run to Kadima.