I turn your attention to the statement Ariel Sharon made to Shimon Shiffer in the Rosh Hashanah edition of Yediot Ahronot: “I will take,” he promised, “a giant step towards peace.”
A giant step? If I were Pinhas Wallerstein, Uri Ariel and Bentzi Lieberman, I’d be bracing for a blow. Ladies and gentlemen, my friends in Judea and Samaria, kindly begin to look quickly for a flack jacket, sized extra-large. While it is true that Sharon also said that there would not be any more unilateral steps, and while it is true that he said he would now wait for the Palestinians to take steps, he also once said that “the rule for Netzarim is the rule for Tel Aviv,” and where is Netzarim today and where is Tel Aviv? So what if he said?
Here is the first and last rule you need, a rule with no exceptions: Sharon always does, first and foremost, what is good for him (and his family), and only then what is good for the State of Israel, its security and economy. And Sharon is now galloping ahead, and when he gallops he bows to no God, not even on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Even those who don’t want to, have to understand him: for 50 years he was ostracized, a leper, the man who was rejected everywhere. In the United States, Britain, and France he was the most hated among the reviled, his foot did not cross the threshold of any ministry office, the bureau of any minister, prime minister or king. For nearly his entire life, and most certainly after the Lebanon War and Sabra and Shatilla, Sharon sought to be rehabilitated in the eyes of the public and the eyes of various leaderships in Israel and overseas. The White House, for instance, the aspiration of every politician around the world, he saw only on picture postcards. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe how “beyond the pale” he used to be.
The Americans made a project out of him. Even before he said a single word about withdrawal, the ills of the occupation or disengagement, they opened up the White House, the administration, the United States before him. President Bush lavished him with praise, and in Paris and London, in Berlin and the Himalaya mountains, people saw the images, heard the sounds, and when America says and does something, we all know, nearly the entire world toes its line. Bush, with his slaps on the back, and Condoleezza, with her kisses, turned Sharon into the audience’s favorite. Arik the ostracized, the leper, was carried away. No one could have withstood that tsunami of friendship.
Sharon realized that he had to “deliver.” He realized that he could not count on the Israeli economy to rehabilitate itself and that the IDF would not provide him with a solution to terrorism and a political arrangement, and he also realized that the White House was currently occupied by a cowboy who wouldn’t let him manipulate him. That is one of the reasons, perhaps the central one, for the birth of the disengagement plan. And after it was born, and certainly after it was carried out, Sharon has become the king of the world, the people’s redeemer, the savior, the one and only.
The Sharon who, as noted, thinks first and foremost about himself and what is good for him and how he will go down in history as the prime minister who led Israel to a final peace arrangement, has no problem changing arenas. In the past he once proposed collaboration with Yossi Sarid and Amos Keinan from the Left, and now-the unilateral disengagement plan. The Likud wants to stay put? So be it. It is he who is in motion.
And just look how much he enjoys that. Just two decades ago he was branded a “murderer” in the city squares, and the number of dead were counted for him. Now Mubarak talks about him, King Abdullah whistles in admiration, even Musharraf from Pakistan has shown his affection. Who else? Chirac the Frenchman. Would you have believed it? Chirac? The French? Those anti-Semites? Wow.
Now Sharon is squinting his eyes, knotting his brow and thinking: he views his victory in the Likud as a delay during which he can weaken Bibi. His next task is to change the Likud’s electoral system for electing its next Knesset list. He knows that if he fails he will have to deal with 20 Uzi Landaus in the next Knesset, and he will be paralyzed. If he fails at making that change, he will quit and form a new party that will exact a dear price from the Labor Party since, in terms of its general policy platform, it will be identical to the Labor Party.
And then, immediately after the elections, probably in just another few months, he will continue, big time, so as to make himself the second David Ben-Gurion, or, if possible, to surpass even him: Sharon, the setter of Israel’s borders. He knows what we all know: he has to continue with his political plan, and big time. If he stops the process, America, Europe and all his current fans will show their claws and then he will fall. He can’t afford to stop, to rest, and he doesn’t want to either.
So remember that couple of words, “giant step,” which Sharon uttered on the eve of the new year. We are fated to hear them again. To be continued
This piece ran in Yediot Aharonot on October 9th, 2005
Eitan Haber is Former Advisor to PM Yitzhak Rabin