Vacation Down at the Ranch

Sharon is one of those people who never forgets anything - he never forgets the people whom he owes a favor in return for a favor, or those whom he has marked down to devastate when the appropriate opportunity comes along.

During his annual vacation at Sycamore Ranch, Prime Minister Sharon is not dabbling his feet in the cool water of a swimming pool. He prefers to go upstairs to his thinking room in the ranch tower, to look out the window at the broad fields and perhaps now and then to bite into a few juicy kebabs. But mainly, he huddles with his own thoughts. And this week he had a lot of events to contemplate.

From time to time he pulled out the little notebook that never leaves him, in order to jot down a thought or two or an account or two that needs settling. Sharon is one of those people who never forgets anything - he never forgets the people whom he owes a favor in return for a favor, or those whom he has marked down to devastate when the appropriate opportunity comes along. He did not invent the phrase "what goes around comes around," but he is a big practitioner of it. Descriptions like the ones he read this weekend in the media about his defeat, his weakness, and even the demand to depose him don't give him heartburn. At most they lead him to a reckoning of conscience.

With Sharon, there is no such thing as "I made a mistake," but rather "what do I need to do," and "what am I able to do." With a warm south wind coming in through the window, he defines to himself what happened at the Likud convention in Mann Auditorium not only as ingratitude for the million votes he brought to the Likud, but also as an attempted putsch.

He inscribes in his little notebook the names of those who kept silent as fish when he most needed their protection: Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Minister in the Finance Ministry Meir Sheetrit, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He marked a big "X" next to the name of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who smiled and fawned on him while his people were preparing the hangman's rope for Sharon. The prime minister has been everything to everyone during his life, but he has never been a hypocrite.

What were they imagining, he thought to himself as he ended his repast with a slice of halva - that the party convention runs the country? If Menachem Begin had asked the Likud convention's approval for the evacuation of Sinai and all its inhabitants before the Camp David summit, would there be peace with Egypt today? And if David Ben-Gurion had brought the matter of Dimona before the Mapai (forerunner of the Labor Party) central committee, would Israel be a nuclear power today?

In The Basic Law on The Government, the addition of a minister requires a government decision and Knesset approval. Not a convention, not a central committee, and not my Aunt Fanny. The Moshe Feiglins, Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau, and MK David Levy aren't going to dictate to him whether or not to bring the Labor Party into the government. They aren't going to tell him who will or will not be the foreign minister. And that Landau, who refers to himself in the third person - what in fact is he doing in the government apart from undermining the prime minister?

Sharon writes in his notebook: 1. Set things straight in three areas: the government, the faction and the Likud. 2. Consult a lawyer about how to dwarf the convention's constitutional powers. And he also writes: Send telegrams to King Abdullah of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, saying that I am sticking to the road map and the disengagement. And a thank-you note to the president of the United States, George W. Bush, for the building permits in the territories.

I need to go by the method of divide and rule, he thinks to himself, and first off I need to clinch a deal with Bibi (Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu). I'll reach an agreement with him that after the disengagement, I'll get out of his way for the 2006 elections. Bibi is someone who panics, and he will be happy to get a country that has been cleansed of the Gaza Strip, and a Likud that has been cleansed of the Feiglins and the underworld. And if he sticks to the bargain and plays fair, maybe I'll even give him a bonus and release him of the punishment of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Sharon took a sip of coffee that his Knesset member son Omri brought him, and thought to himself: The initiators of the putsch were looking for a way to skewer me, but they failed in that they didn't offer the people a policy alternative. Because if not a disengagement from Gaza with international support, then what? Two more years of intifada? Another thousand or two fatalities? An international boycott again? America against us? The guarantees cut? And a degenerating economic situation? I will implement the disengagement. Not because "the Likud can do it," as the election slogan said, but because only I in the Likud can do it. Because the nation is with me, and the Labor party is coming apart at the seams. If they don't let me, I'll toss the whole deck in the air: I'll topple the government and I'll declare early elections. Let's see them, those rebels, writhing outside the Knesset like carp out of water.

What was it my son Gilad said? If you're gonna go for it, go for the whole kitty. I'm going for the whole kitty: On this day next year, we won't be in Gaza.