The Missing Link

The enormous effort Sharon is making to create the political basis for approval of his disengagement plan demands that he improve it and turn it into a more sophisticated diplomatic maneuver.

The saying goes that "not for nothing did the starling follow the raven; it is of its kind." Similarly, not by chance does Ariel Sharon intend to include the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government. On the face of it, the prime minister's aim is clear - the inclusion of United Torah Judaism and Shas is meant to prepare the way for a coalition with Labor. In as much as the maneuver appears logical and aimed at achieving a worthy end - the implementation of the disengagement plan - it has the complexity of a plan to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem through Qalqilyah and Ramallah. In other words, it makes the way longer and also chooses a path strewn with danger.

Before suspicion is cast on Sharon - that he is trying to establish an alibi to back the failure to implement the disengagement plan - his actions must be judged. This is what can be said in his favor: Since he initiated the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, he is behaving like someone who is intent on seeing the plan through. Sharon shed from his government all the factions that declared their opposition to the plan and even exposed himself to a number of humiliations within his party, when he posed his initiative to a referendum among party members (and failed) and when he asked the Likud Central Committee to allow him to invite Labor into the coalition (and was crushed). In both cases, Sharon paid a not insignificant political cost in his struggle to create the necessary political basis in order to carry out his plan. Therefore, there is no clearly apparent reason to doubt his commitment to the disengagement plan.

It is possible that in the hidden folds of his mind he has an opposite plan - to reach a situation that proves that even such a far-reaching move, from an Israeli point of view, cannot be carried out because of the behavior of the Palestinians. But there is no proof of such thinking. Sharon has fixed himself to the initiative and has also rallied U.S. President George W. Bush, and his behavior this past year is proof of his movement toward its implementation. There is insufficient evidence to back concerns that once more, as in many other junctures in his life as a public figure, there is a great con behind all this.

For now, Sharon enjoys the kind of credit associated with one whose moves also represent his intentions: He wishes to pull the Israel Defense Forces and the settlements out of the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Another failure in a vote at the Likud Central Committee, which is scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide whether to heed Sharon's request to authorize the inclusion of Labor and the ultra-Orthodox parties into a coalition government, will make it impossible for him to continue heading the party. A leader whose party does not back him in a matter of such essence cannot aspire to lead the country. This will also be the case if the majority of the new coalition Sharon aspires to set up (with the ultra-Orthodox parties and part of the Likud) does not support him in the coming months in crucial votes in the implementation of the disengagement plan. In other words, Sharon is taking a gamble with his future as a public figure in the steps he is currently taking and, therefore, the risk he is taking apparently proves the sincerity of his intention to carry out the evacuation.

One element of the disengagement plan raises the stakes against its implementation - and were it removed, it would significantly improve Sharon's chances of bringing the plan to fruition: the principle of unilateralism. From the start, the prime minister set his initiative within the parameters of unilateralism in order to highlight that there is no partner on the Palestinian side. It was also done in order to establish facts on the ground in a forceful manner and to give the impression that Israel has disengaged itself completely from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank and is no longer responsible for what happens in these areas. The justification behind this thinking evaporated with the death of Yasser Arafat.

There are now conditions that invite cooperation between Israel and the new, crystalizing Palestinian leadership. Giving up the principle of unilateralism will also assist Sharon on the domestic front. The enormous effort he is making to create the political basis for approval of his plan demands that he improve it and turn it into a more sophisticated diplomatic maneuver.