The first phone call was from his son, Gilad. Ariel Sharon spoke gently, occasionally laughing. Gilad phoned from the farm, immediately after the television polls, to his father sitting in the security cabinet room in the Prime Minister’s Bureau in Tel Aviv. The second call was less expected: Amram Mitzna was on the line.

Just then Sharon was watching Barak being interviewed with a serious face, talking about the bad fall the party had taken.

Here he had a problem. Mitzna on the phone, Barak on television. Sharon tried to handle both, but couldn’t. He asked to tone Barak down, so he could hear Mitzna. They set up a meeting, even though Mitzna made it clear: “I have no intention of joining your government, I am committed to my positions”.

Then Shaul Mofaz called. Sharon cordially informed Mofaz (making sure others in the room could hear): “You were and will continue to be the defense minister of the Jewish people”.

The next to phone was Binyamin Netanyahu. Afterwards, of course, Shimon Peres. And so it went, on and on. A parade of phone calls and congratulations. [… ]

On the night of victory, on the sweaty victors’ stage, Sharon’s tension dissipated and became a great victory swell.

A close observation can reveal some of them most intriguing mysteries of today’s politics. For example, who will be a minister in his next government.

Most of the compliments went to Ehud Olmert. Sharon went out of his way to thank his election campaign chairman. The next day Sharon phoned Olmert again. The Jerusalem mayor’s position in the next government seems more assured than ever. Even Limor Livnat received a warm thank-you. So did the strategic advisers (Adler, Arad, Horev). Arthur Finkelstein, who phoned from the US, said he was pleased. [… ]

Now Sharon faces a truly difficult task. To form a government that is not a right wing government. “There is no such animal, there is no right wing government, there is no such option”, Sharon’s associates say. The prime minister himself emphasizes to his close associates that no such option exists. He has no intention, under any circumstances, to bring Avigdor Lieberman into the coalition.

Lieberman, incidentally, is aware of this and is considering what to do. One option is to leave political life in the next few weeks. Sharon won’t mourn. “I will not be put under the pressure of extremists, not from the Right and not from the Left”, Sharon says. “There are many options and possibilities without being captive to the extremists. The media exaggerates its assessments when it says it will be difficult for me to form a working government”.

The prime minister is aware of the Labor Party’s decision not to join his government. He is pinning most of his hopes on Shimon Peres. Sharon’s people are beginning to put out feelers and apply pressure, mainly among Peres’ circle. Peres tells his associates that there is something to talk about. He is vague about this message to the media.

Sharon’s people are now putting together a hefty “package of enticements” directed at Peres, in the hope that he will be first to pick up the gauntlet. [… ]