Words can be laundered and modified, but why not call a spade a spade, especially since we're up against a stacked deck. It's not pleasant, but there's nothing we can do about it: Like it or not, we have to admit that we have a lying prime minister. True, we have often wanted to believe Ariel Sharon was kicking the habit of prevarication - a description that was attached to him many years ago, in the period of David Ben-Gurion - but for the time being, at least, there is no sign of this.
About a month ago, our prime minister took everyone by surprise - again - when he told Ari Shavit, in an interview in Haaretz, that he will be ready to evacuate settlements as part of the by-now famous "painful concessions," and he even singled out Beit El, Shiloh and Bethlehem. The media was thrilled and leaped on the declaration - again - as though it was a great find, and preoccupied us with the eternal question of what Sharon actually means.
On the day the interview appeared, I was asked by Israel Radio for my opinion of the exciting revelation, which would make the father of the settlements their eradicator. I replied that I attached no importance whatsoever to the declaration, which would come to the same end as all the conciliatory statements uttered by Sharon - as we indeed see is the case, contrary to what our ears hear from time to time. Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen are not the only ones who are, and will be, judged only by what they do and not by what they say: so will Sharon.
The radio interviewer, who always sounds as though he is offhandedly managing the affairs of the Middle East, expressed deep disappointment with my reply. From you of all people, he said, I expected a "less dogmatic" reaction. Undoubtedly he expected me to launch into a paean of hope to the peace exploits of the man who is better known as a warmonger, that I would give him credit as a statesman who will yet surprise us all.
When one blames the media, one usually gets a sarcastic reprimand along the lines of, "So it's all the fault of the media again, eh?" Yes, the media bears part of the blame here. How many times will it inflate this punctured balloon of expectations from Sharon? How long will he remain the great hope for a new dawn? The hopes of a thousand journalists have been dashed a thousand times, but still they insist: He will surprise us, look what he said to Ari Shavit. And even as he is saying it, a few more illegal outposts are being established by people who know full well that they can depend on the backing of the prime minister. Still ringing in our ears is Sharon's call to the settlers to seize the hilltops, which is in fact what they have been doing ever since, without interruption.
Therefore, the media, too, must set itself an ironclad rule, holding that the burden of proof lies with Sharon as long as his deeds attest otherwise. He is fomenting war as long as he isn't taking even one small step toward peace. He is a liar as long as he is not caught speaking the truth and is not evacuating one illegal outpost between one painful concession and the next. And you don't give credit to people who haven't repaid their past debts.
Less than a month after the Shavit interview, the prime minister announced that what he said then wasn't properly understood, was taken out of context - the famous context that is the regular refuge of the scoundrel statesman. Beit El will remain where it is, have no fear, and the settlers in Shiloh will remain under Jewish sovereignty, and nothing remains of the scoop in Haaretz. In the presence of Colin Powell, he explains that it's impossible to ask settler women to have abortions: They give birth, and their offspring deserve to have a home - as though if the settlements do not multiply there's a danger the settlers' children will not have a roof over their heads.
In fact, there is nothing surprising about Sharon's political determination: When scorn is heaped on the head of Amram Mitzna because of his integrity, why should we be amazed that people are ready to anoint Sharon's head with oil?
Yossi Sarid is a former education minister and the former leader of Meretz
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