Ariel Sharon, who would have turned 86 this week, would certainly be sorry to hear that his death cut off an important income source for his family, but he might have been comforted to know that he’s providing an income source for other Jews. A quick-thinking entrepreneur in Tel Aviv is organizing “tours in the footsteps of Arik Sharon’s life, from Kfar Malal to Sycamore Ranch to Kalaniot Hill.”
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Granted, it’s a little thin – where’s Qibya, the Mitla Pass, Sabra and Chatila, the Temple Mount, the Greek island and the Gaza Strip? On second thought, how much can you do in one day with a bus and 50 bucks?
Sharon is waiting for Shakespeare, or at least a skilled imitator of Henry V and Richard III and the other crowned heads. Sharon’s life cries out for a play about how he grew up in the court of two kings – David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin.
These two enemies, nourished by their mutual hatred and finally their rivalry with Ben-Gurion’s successors, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, didn’t resemble each other at all – one was hard, the other soft. But they shared characteristics such as self-exile during dull times, illness during crises and departure from government as a way out under pressure.
Under their aegis, one after the other, Sharon, skipping from patron to patron as protection from competitors, between dukes and counts, rose until he became a king in his own right. The intrigues, lies and warnings. How tragic was Begin’s knowledge that appointing Sharon defense minister was dangerous. And how tragic was Begin’s inability to avoid that step and rein in what eventually made him “The Prisoner of Zemach Street.”
Back then, when Begin was exhausted, Sharon, having been neglected for so many years, was elevated. The man who begged scraps (the “Infrastructure Ministry”) from Benjamin Netanyahu’s table and begged Ehud Barak unsuccessfully to make him part of his government suddenly became the fulfillment of prophecy, “Arik king of Israel.” And he let Barak and Netanyahu serve under him.
And then another plot twist. That same Netanyahu returns to the government and sticks with it as an end unto itself, a frame without a picture, a noun without a verb. Eighteen years, precisely the period of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres’ rivalry, have gone by since Netanyahu beat Peres in the 1996 election, and Netanyahu is still here. But he’s not king of Israel, despite Time Magazine’s pun based on the name of blues master B.B. King. This isn’t King Bibi I but rather a puppet king made a laughing stock even by his own deputy defense minister.
This will all remain true until Netanyahu has been goaded enough and draws a line in the sand. He feels contempt for those who distort his image, portraying him as indecisive. That’s it. He has decided. Finally and unequivocally. Not to decide. Not now. In another year, certainly. Then he’ll decide – to move on to the presidency.
In another year, the cabinet will teeter, as is common in a pre-election period. In another year, Barack Obama’s term will also be on its last legs. Bibi just has to get through this year and move on, a seven-minute brisk walk from the prime minister’s house to the President’s Residence.
Wanted: a savior. To bridge the year. And who better than Peres? He’s kind, generous and working only for peace. If Bibi, a synonym for peace, begs him to stay another year in the President’s Residence, why wouldn’t he? Might he still be angry about that ’96 election?
Peres can abuse him and negotiate. If they’re changing the law then why just one more year? Why not a whole extra term during which Peres can climb from 10th place on the list of the world’s oldest heads of state. Then he’ll outdistance every president, king and pope and top the record holder, Hastings Banda of Malawi, who was 96 when he lost (“me, a loser”?) an election.
Along with the great honor of keeping the President’s Residence warm for the Netanyahus, there’s the ability to be kingmaker for the peace alliance – Labor, the remnants of Yesh Atid, Tzipi Livni and the security threesome waiting out cooling-off periods: Meir Dagan, Yuval Diskin and Gabi Ashkenazi. Bibi will remain a puppet king whom even Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon can make mincemeat out of, or better yet, Dannon yogurt.