His Mother Said So

Will Ariel Sharon be elected for a third and final term in office, or will his historical role end with the withdrawal from Gush Katif?

An interesting question sure to arise "the day after" the disengagement pertains to the political fate of the man who initiated the plan. Will Ariel Sharon be elected for a third and final term in office, or will his historical role end with the withdrawal from Gush Katif?

The answer, as far as the prime minister is concerned, is clear: "I have no intention of passing on the baton to anyone, and I plan to run in the next elections," he said to journalists who accompanied him to France. "Don't make the mistake of perhaps hooking up with others."

Sharon's current governmental legacy is one of consensus vis-a-vis the borders of Israel - the Green Line in Gaza, and the line of the fence in the West Bank. Shimon Peres' declaration that Israel must keep possession of the three settlement blocs in the West Bank is an indication that the political center is united around "Sharon's line." The adjustments proposed by Benjamin Netanyahu (the annexation of the Hebron Hills), Avigdor Lieberman (the removal of Umm al-Fahm) and Yossi Beilin (the evacuation of Ariel and an agreement with the Palestinians) sound at present like forsaken remarks.

But what is Sharon offering the Israelis if he remains in his post? And how is he functioning? On the trip to Paris, he was all smiles, and his jokes had his audience rolling in the aisles. If he was under any stress because of the pending withdrawal, the rift between the oranges and the blues, or the indictment filed against his son, Omri, he did a good job of hiding it.

Sharon makes sharp distinctions about the neighbors: "I have correct relations with Mubarak" versus "I'd be happy to get the same support in Israel that I get from the Jordanian royal family." He is disciplined and sticks to the clauses he has learned by heart. Sometimes, when the questions repeat themselves, a bit of "the old Arik" creeps into the messages. He has expressed pride in the international support Israel is getting thanks to the disengagement, and the numerous visits by foreign dignitaries - saying what he must have been advised to say. And then he came out with, "Everyone wants to deal with our problems," like in the days when he would ask his European guests if they had already solved the problems of the Laps and the Basques.

Sharon is angry with Uri Dan (who reminds him of his previous positions) and says to him: "Why busy yourself always with what used to be?" A moment later, he will go into a long story about a trek with his Golani soldiers, in the early days of the state, and how they took shelter under the shade of a large vine in the Negev. Once, Sharon's speeches included quotes from his teachers and mentors - David Ben-Gurion, Natan Alterman and Menachem Begin. In recent months he has returned to deeper roots, to his father, Shmuel, and his mother, Vera, who taught him not to trust Arabs and told him that the right to "the land" belongs only to the Jews, and that others only have rights "in the land."

Sharon foresees a continuation of the conflict with the hostile and lying Arabs until they recognize the right of the Jewish people to establish a state in "the cradle of its birth." He wants to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel by means of mass immigration and community-building in the Negev, Galilee, Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. He terms the Arab minority "Palestinian citizens of Israel," and thereby boosts their affiliation with the entity on the other side of the fence. These are the classic postions of the Israeli center-right.

But the elections will not center on content, but on Sharon's leadership and his proven ability to withstand pressures and win the support of the public. These are the assets with which he will face Netanyahu and the hostility of his fellow Likudniks. If he wins the primaries, his rivals in the elections will try to attack him on the issue of corruption in the government. When the 2003 campaign ran into trouble, consultant Arthur Finkelstein had the following to say in this regard: "When you allow people to choose between the corrupt and the stupid, they will go for the corrupt." It worked against Amram Mitzna; the question is will it work in 2006, too?