Where Is Our Alternative Leadership?

Never have we had a leader who has missed, year after year, every opportunity that has come our way for change, for dialogue to put an end to terror, for political initiative, for some way out of the cycle of bloodshed.

The staggering military blows Israel has taken this week and the results of the Likud disengagement referendum have created a bizarre tendency, even among the left, to nod understandingly and sympathize with Prime Minister Sharon in his new role as loser. And this after being admired in his previous role as a mow-them-down winner.

Strangely enough, even the military setback in Gaza has somehow contributed to Sharon's new image as a creative pragmatist whose brilliant plans are being wrecked by low-brow extremists. But actually, nothing could be further from the truth: The disengagement plan and the whole business around it do not invalidate the claim that Sharon has been an ineffectual and unsuccessful leader - it only makes the case against him stronger.

So keep your tears and pity for someone else. Don't waste them on someone who has shown no compassion whatsoever, in three long years of political wheeling and dealing, for you, the Israeli. Of all Israel's leaders, there has never been anyone who has squandered the time granted to him by the voter more cynically or unproductively. Never have we had a leader who has missed, year after year, every opportunity that has come our way for change, for dialogue to put an end to terror, for political initiative, for some way out of the cycle of bloodshed.

True, the root of all evil is the bloodthirsty and impotent leadership of the Palestinians. True, there are coalition problems and political constraints. But how many of these troubles were exacerbated by Sharon himself? Why, and on what, did he waste all those years of uncontested rule over the Likud? Where was he when Labor was in the coalition and he had the party at his beck and call? Where was he when the Palestinians inaugurated a new government? Where was he before there was any criminal indictment hanging over his head? Why didn't he try to stop the vicious cycle of terror and retaliation back then, when he was at the height of his power and influence?

Only when his chair began to wobble did he hastily - sandwiched between police inquiries and threats of indictment - cobble together his "unilateral disengagement plan," and even then because it would be useful for annexing other settlement blocs. If Sharon couldn't even sell the plan to his own party, it's because his tricks and spin have lost him all the moral authority and integrity he ever had.

The alibi for the inaction of the Sharon government has always been its wait for an "alternative Palestinian leadership," for an administration less ineffectual and violent. But what about the hollowness of his own leadership for the past three years? Apart from his own political survival - and knee-jerk reactions between terror attacks and retaliation - it has never been clear what Sharon really wants. "Go vote!" he cried, before the elections. "Go vote!" he cried before the referendum and the Likud ballots. But vote for what? It seems he doesn't even know himself.

All the archaic forces that cling to Israeliness like a shadow and gradually dissolve the national glue have begun to be sucked into this moral vacuum: the Feiglins with their religious ethnic approach; the army, dragged into an autonomous vendetta mentality; the pressure of bereaved families who have turned into the great eroders of national solidarity; the settlers, who no longer disguise the fact that they decide military and national objectives. Victimhood and martyrdom are flourishing. In this respect, Sharon, the symbol of Israeliness in many eyes, has allowed others to usurp Israeli identity. Instead of a vision, Sharon and Shaul Mofaz have given us a test lab specializing in military experiments. Every type of force has been tried: closures, curfews, sieges, blockades, barricades, moveable partitions, breaking off talks, assassinating leaders - and finally, unilateral disengagement combined with etching surrender into their consciousness.

But like the proverbial elephant standing in the middle of the room as everybody goes about their business and says nothing, what we are looking at is failure, plain and simple: Sharon's failure on the job; the failure of his government; personal, moral, executive and conceptual failure; failure by every yardstick. Blood is flowing like water. Every possible solution is fading away. Only one option has not been tried over the last three years, and it is staring us in the face. It should be proclaimed from the rooftops. What we need is an alternative leadership - and not just on the Palestinian side.