What Are Sharon's Intentions?

The disengagement plan is the brainchild of Ariel Sharon, and he will be held accountable for its consequences, for better or worse.

Now that the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria seems, at least, to be on the verge of implementation, the irregular circumstances of its birth should be highlighted. It was born in the cunning, devious mind of one man. At the very most he consulted a small group of cronies who do not hold any official position.

The disengagement plan is the brainchild of Ariel Sharon, and he will be held accountable for its consequences, for better or worse. Since this is the case, there is cause to ponder the context in which the prime minister conceived of his initiative and the extent to which he is sharing his intentions with the public.

There is a consensus that planning wars is a government act in which the public does not take part. The public is only required to pay the price of its leaders' decisions. This concept is based on the assumption that security affairs are the domain of unique professionals, that conducting a battlefield requires secrecy, that most wars erupt out of the blue, or as a result of rapid developments that do not enable the government to share the appropriate way to respond to them with the public, and that this is the way of the world.

Sharon, a battle-scarred general whose worldview was molded through the sights of a rifle, applies the same thinking patterns to the political arena. He is managing the disengagement plan like a military commander in a war tent. When he exposed it to the public (in an interview to Haaretz), it was already ripe and formulated in his mind. When he led it down the political corridors to ice it with the necessary approvals, it was already a completed decision dictated to the cabinet and the Knesset.

This conduct reflects great force of leadership and is perhaps required for making a historic decision such as the one inherent in the disengagement plan. However, it does not exempt Sharon from the duty to give an account of where he is heading. Unlike planning wars, the goals of a peace initiative are not a secret. The public, which is required to pay the price for the political move initiated by the prime minister, has a right and a duty to know where it is being led.

Sharon defines the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria as a mere security move, and even takes pains to describe it as unilateral. But he is feigning innocence, if not being deceptive, in ignoring the tremendous political significance of this move. The withdrawal shakes the foundations of a situation that has become an idee fixe in the last 37 years, more than half the state's age, and enfolds a precedent of major consequence.

Israel's citizens, most of whom support the disengagement, have a right to demand of the prime minister that he share his intentions with them. Does he intend to continue to evacuate areas in the West Bank and turn the disengagement into the first step of a comprehensive political move aimed at reaching a settlement with the Palestinian nation? Does he continue to see the Palestinians, including Abu Mazen, as an enemy with whom a settlement cannot be reached in the foreseeable future? Does he see the disengagement merely as a limited military step and if so, how will it benefit security?

Until now the prime minister has ignored these questions. Anyone in the cabinet or security top brass who questioned his initiative (Ya'alon, Dichter, radical right-wing ministers) found himself out of it.

On the face of it, it would be naive to present these questions to the prime minister and expect answers, especially honest ones. We must abandon the convention that what is hidden in the recesses of the state leader's heart is his private domain - or his private ranch, in this case. Since the issue involves lives and a high cost, one society will have to pay to implement the prime minister's decisions, society has a right to demand that Sharon make his intentions clear.

After all, if Yossi Beilin or Shimon Peres were prime minister today, obviously the disengagement plan would be implemented in a totally different context and would be leading to a final settlement. This crucial difference in results justifies a demand on the prime minister to expose his political vision to the public.