The Bottom Line / Arik the Great - or Arik and Sons?

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - "Arik," as everyone calls him - has always been a man who is larger than life, whether when winning a medal of honor or serving as a private first class.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - "Arik," as everyone calls him - has always been a man who is larger than life, whether when winning a medal of honor or serving as a private first class. During his 50-year military and political career, Sharon has achieved a name as a hero of Israel, who crossed the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War and saved the state. Yet he also won a reputation as a bloodthirsty general, who involved his soldiers in a lost-cause battle or sent them to fight, after 40 particularly long kilometers, in the outskirts of Beirut.

People always either admired or despised Arik, either feared him or hung their hopes for Israel's future upon him. However, no one ever derided Arik in the way the public has shown contempt for most politicians - at least not until four years ago.

Through his own fault, Arik has transformed himself into just another politician. The economic intrigues in which he and his sons got involved exposed a face of Arik that we had not known, the one that is much more interested in his private pockets than in the public interest. That the clanging of change rings in his ears more clearly than the flapping of the wings of history exposed him to derision.

The struggle over disengagement from Gaza appears to be Sharon's attempt at a comeback involving rehabilitating his image as a leader - perhaps steeped in a dispute, but a leader nonetheless. Whether you support or oppose him, it is impossible to deny his determination or the power and force Arik has been revealing in promoting the plan. Once again, he stands as a leader looking upon the horizon of history, not upon his bank overdraft.

Still the comeback will not be complete if Sharon continues to focus all his energy on one disengagement and torpedoes the other - that of disengaging the banks from their provident and mutual funds, and essentially disengaging the banks from their sources of power and from their centralist stranglehold on the economy.

Like leaving Gaza, disengagement of the banks is not really up for discussion. The issue has been discussed for 20 years, with positions made both for and against, and after all that time it is clear that reality requires disengagement. It is a difficult decision, which calls for demonstrating leadership ability, but it is a decision that must be taken if we want to transform Israel into a modern country.

Without disengaging from Gaza, Israel will not take its place among the community of enlightened, free nations. Without disengaging the power of the banks, Israel will not be able to grow and flower as it should.

Sharon is totally focused on one disengagement, and acts against another. Why? Primarily because the old Arik, preoccupied with petty considerations and not with the stamp he'll leave on history, is the one setting the tone. It is this Arik who is making the calculation that disengagement from the provident funds is a personal project of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in the personal struggle between the two of them, Arik does not intend to let Netanyahu succeed - even if such an achievement is no less important than disengagement from Gaza.

In political arithmetic it is entirely possible that Arik is correct. In terms of historical arithmetic, however, Arik is wrong because he is the one that would be remembered as responsible for both great revolutions - the political one with disengagement from Gaza, and the economic one with the dispersion of the major banks' power and increased competition among banks for private customers.

The question remaining is which Arik will make the calculation, the great, larger-than-life Arik, or Arik and Sons, Inc.