Analysis: Beleaguered Shinui Chief Gives in on Budget

MK Yosef Lapid finally understood what every pollster has known for months: If Shinui doesn't support the budget, it will be its end.

When MK Yosef Lapid walked into Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spacious living room at the Sycamore Ranch, Sharon saw a man ready to deal. What hadn't he gone through over the past weeks? The media, the Americans, the members of his Shinui faction disparaging him behind his back, all demanding he support the budget and make disengagement possible.

So what if only on Saturday, and in dozens of prior interviews, Lapid had declared he was interested not in money, but only in values. Sharon had no intention of breaking up his coalition just so Lapid could return to the Justice Ministry.

Sharon was ready to open his wallet to Lapid's upturned palm. Even he has a price when it comes to the ultra-Orthodox. A week ago he said no to NIS 600 million. On Saturday he said yes to NIS 700 million.

Lapid finally understood what every pollster has known for months: If Shinui doesn't support the budget, it will be its end. About half its voters, left-leaning supporters of disengagement, will find themselves another party. Lapid understood that his MKs, who had shown more maturity than he had, would not let him bring down the government, nor would they let him send them back so quickly to their law firms.

As Ehud Barak used to say of Benjamin Netanyahu, Lapid climbed up the tree like Tarzan and down like Popeye.

To Lapid's credit, in addition to paving the way to disengagement, he saved people four nerve-racking days of endless TV and radio broadcasts on the "budget drama."

And the referendum bill will almost certainly fall Monday in the Knesset, unless Shas decides to take revenge on Sharon, and there will be nothing to prevent disengagement. This will be a great victory for Sharon. With one signature he gets rid of the Likud rebels, the bother of Eli Yishai and the need to garner support from insignificant MKs.

Yossi Beilin's Yahad would have given him their support for free, the Arabs asked for little. But Sharon, who is tight-fisted when it comes to pensioners, single mothers and until recently to the sick, is generous when it comes to his own survival.

Sharon left Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will have to cut NIS 700 million from other clauses, in shock. Netanyahu thought the majority for the budget could be had much more cheaply. Sharon wasn't ready to take a chance. He had much more to lose than Bibi.