|The New York Times
The Comeback Likudnik
By WILLIAM SAFIRE May 5, 2004
have not spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon since a majority
of half the members of his Likud Party — about 1 percent of Israel's
population — expressed their displeasure with his plan to withdraw the
most vulnerable settlements from Gaza and the West Bank.
The loss of the party referendum is a setback. After two landslide election victories, I grew overconfident and misjudged the power of the settlers' "rewarding terrorists" message. But it was a skirmish in a lifelong series of battles, not a personal defeat. I am a survivor.
What are my options?
One: To resign? Never. I have three years to serve before re-election, and my mission is to ensure the security of Israel. Neither the nation nor I will retreat under fire.
Option 2: To disrespect the
vote of the settler movement — my people,
all brave Jews — who oppose what I promised would be painful
compromises? Of course not. Though the party
vote was not legally
binding, it's sort of politically binding, which brings up——
Option 3: To modify my
disengagement plan, giving more weight to my old
supporters' objections. Relocate a few, not
all, of the Gaza
settlements, and a couple in Samaria to establish the principle that
holding all the land the Palestinians want would endanger our
Our old dream is no longer attainable, if we are to have a secure
Jewish state; it's time for a new dream.
Option 4: To negotiate that
new limited disengagement plan with the 22
members of my cabinet, calming everybody on the far right and
proceeding more slowly than I had hoped, though going full speed on the
I cannot back away too much on relocating our settlers or my
coalition would lose Tomi Lapid's Shinui Party, and he's with me more
than some of my own cabinet Likudniks.
About them: my deputy Ehud Olmert has been stalwart — even ahead of me — and would make a fine prime minister someday. Same with Shaul Mofaz at Defense; the Army doesn't want 10,000 troops defending 7,500 settlers in Gaza. But Bibi is Bibi, taking no chances. If the cabinet freezes, which I doubt, I could——
Option 5: Go to the Knesset
with a bill calling for a national
referendum on limited disengagement. If all the
opinion polls mean
anything, the great majority of Israelis, left and right, are with
me. Some say a binding referendum would take months, and suggest
private "poll of polls." No; I will lead, not follow.
Option 6: I could listen to
Shimon Peres, who wants quick elections. He
thinks Labor would pick up seats from Likud — and Shimon, in his 80's,
can't wait three long years to run again. But his back-to-Oslo
a sure loser; Labor would be smarter taking up Lapid's idea of a unity
government now with me.
My choice is Option 4, the
modified disengagement plan, with a
possibility of taking it to the Knesset later. Just
this week, right
after the Likud surprise, the Knesset supported me strongly on a vote
of confidence about the economy. With all the brouhaha in the world
press about last Sunday's crushing defeat, I'm still by far the most
popular politician in Israel.
But no more overconfidence. I know that many on the left and in the center tolerate me because "only Arik can bring along the right." So I have to take more care to convince my old comrades in Gaza, Judea and Samaria that building a defensible national perimeter is the road to security now and to peace later.
If I can't bring along a large part of the right — who can? And if not at this critical time — when?
In times of trial, allies show their true colors. President Bush turned American
policy away from Ehud Barak's dangerous
concessions and toward realism in creating two separate states.
I'm guessing that's what Sharon thinks as he calms his compatriots and
moves ahead. I know it's what I think.