Sharon's Vision

The external problem is that Sharon - who is perceived in Israel as a symbol of compromise, a rightist who changed his ways - is still perceived by the world as an outlaw, a devourer of territory.

Ariel Sharon wants to be prime minister and lead Israel until the end of 2010. That's the only way he can meet the challenges he anticipates for the state. But what is the vision he is offering the Israelis? Where is he going to lead them in the coming five and a half years? His holiday interviews enabled him to present his worldview at length, and in short it can be called the "Sharon Doctrine."

l The depth of peace depends on the depth of Zionism: That means the solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict will only be possible when the Arabs recognize the Jewish "right to a homeland" established as a Jewish state in the Land of Israel. And until that happens, if ever, only slow progress can be allowed. Very slow progress.

l The facts on the ground will determine the border: Israel must control the settlement blocs, including Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel, Oftra, and Beit El, which will be linked through territorial contiguity to the Green Line areas and in a broad band in the Jordan Valley. For demographic reasons, Israel will avoid annexing the western slopes of the Samarian hills, and will consider in the future some form of territorial exchange of populated areas, such as Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim for Umm el Fahm. Palestinian population centers in the West Bank will be connected through a series of roads, bridges and tunnels.

l Eradication of terror, first: The road map process, which leads to a Palestinian state, will only be possible after the Palestinians disarm all the terror groups and their ability to foment terror. Israel cannot give up this demand.

l Gaza for the West Bank: The disengagement and dismantling of the settlements in Gaza are a justified price to pay for the "Bush Letter" that Sharon thinks makes permanent Israel's control over the settlement blocs and rejects any future withdrawal from "the cradle of the Jewish people."

l Immigration above all. The main goal of the state is bringing another million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, France, and "poor" American Jews, and intensively settling them in Galilee, the Negev, and around Jerusalem. Nationalist education must be intensified, emphasizing the full Jewish right to the Land of Israel.

These declarations can be written off as hollow sloganeering resulting from political need. Sharon passed the budget and no longer needs the support of Beilin and the left. The Labor Party is buried deep inside his government. Now is the time to reconnect to the Likud and right, so Sharon is stroking the settlers as "the leaders of this generation."

Tomorrow he'll decide to dismantle more settlements, and once again kick them. Maybe or maybe not. It is only clear that Sharon is consistent in his demand that the Arabs accept Zionism, and his argument that the disengagement was meant to save the West Bank. His actions also indicate that's the line: He is avoiding real talk with the Palestinians, continues developing the settlement blocs, and avoids dismantling the outposts and halting the illegal construction.

Sharon's vision raises two problems. The first is domestic. Does the longing for ancient cemeteries in Hebron speak to Israeli youth? Will there be enough soldiers for the last battle over the rocks of the West Bank? No wonder Sharon needs the settlers, and fears that the withdrawal from Gush Katif will alienate them from the state, closing themselves off in a hardal - Haredi-Nationalist - ghetto. It's doubtful his new admirers in the left will enlist with the same enthusiasm in the cause to keep Ofra, Beit El and the ridge above the Allon Road.

The external problem is that Sharon - who is perceived in Israel as a symbol of compromise, a rightist who changed his ways - is still perceived by the world as an outlaw, a devourer of territory. Now the world waits for him to leave Gaza, and welcomes his "courage." But Europe rejects the doctrine of "facts on the ground" and insists Israel's presence in the West Bank is illegal. Even President Bush, Sharon's friend, wants a Palestinian state established during his term. It is doubtful that Sharon expects with the same enthusiasm. Thus, his vision guarantees that Israel's political struggles and international isolation will continue if he remains in office.