Why Does Sharon Need Peres?

Despite everything, Peres is the prime minister's most important possession. To Sharon, one picture with him in The New York Times or Le Monde is worth more than thousands of votes in Jerusalem and Dimona.

What need does a party called Kadima (forward) have for a serial loser? Did Ariel Sharon's strategic consultants not warn him that Benjamin Netanyahu would hang Shimon (Oslo) Peres around his neck? Did they really not consider the possibility that the last remnant of the Mapai era would send the Likud back to its former loves?

It is hard to believe that Sharon did not take all this into account when he decided to embrace the political orphan. But despite everything, Peres is the prime minister's most important possession. To Sharon, one picture with him in The New York Times or Le Monde is worth more than thousands of votes in Jerusalem and Dimona.

For the sake of another term at the head of the Ministry for Developing the Negev and the Galilee, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate will continue to travel from capital to capital, living proof that his boss is a man of peace. When the man who for years led a rival party explains that he joined Sharon in order "to build an infrastructure for peace" - who will doubt Sharon's commitment to peace? Even if in the meantime, the settlement outposts flourish and the peace process languishes, do not worry: As long as Shimon is in the kitchen, something is surely cooking with Abu Ala (Ahmed Qureia). And if Defense Minister Avi Dichter spoils the broth with a series of targeted assassinations, Peres will take his "peace team" to Europe and show the world that everything is all right.

It is worth taking note of the new terminology in Peres' political lexicon: He makes do with saying that Sharon will build "an infrastructure for peace." This is not exactly a peace agreement, but something similar, such as a separation fence built along a route determined by the stronger side, based on the map of the "settlement blocs." If the Palestinians behave nicely, the Kadima government will even consider letting them call the Swiss cheese that remains in their hands a "temporary state."

Who knows better than Peres that a peace agreement with the Palestinians, even an interim one, can only be concluded via negotiations with a Palestinian partner? Sharon has already declared that his condition for acceptance into his "partners' club" will remain in force during his next term as well - namely, "destroying the terrorist infrastructure."

Granted, the road map states that during the peace plan's first stage, the Palestinian security services should work to dismantle the terrorists' infrastructure and capabilities, including by by collection of illegal weapons. But the prime minister's interpretation of "dismantling the infrastructure" is not just disarming Hamas, but also closing down its offices and outlawing it. First, the Israeli government proved to the Palestinian public that only Hamas can expel Israelis, and then, while the organization's popularity is at its peak, it demands that this public turn its back on Hamas.

Defense officials, including those to whom Peres occasionally listens, believe that such a demand has only one possible meaning: civil war. And who is supposed to muster the troops against the heroes who drove the Israel Defense Forces out of Gaza? That same Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas who, together with his party's platform, was made irrelevant by this unilateral approach.

Peres knows that the chances of Abbas acceding to the demand to dismantle the "terrorist infrastructure" are roughly similar to the chances that Sharon's attempt to deny Hamas the right to run in the Palestinian parliamentary elections will succeed. And what will happen the day after the elections in the territories, when it turns out that the leaders of Hamas have become political figures - members of parliament elected in democratic elections, maybe even cabinet members? Will Sharon still treat "liquidating the terrorist infrastructure" as a lock on the door to the road map?

Once, during his "New Middle East" phase, Peres told people like Sharon that conditioning the existence of the peace process on an end to terrorism was a gift to the terrorists. Now, he will tell the entire world that liquidating the terrorist infrastructure is essential to develop an infrastructure for peace.