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America had Monica Lewinsky's infamous blue dress, OJ Simpson's glove and Janet Jackson's malfunctioning Superbowl outfit.
For Israel, the orange tie that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's close friend, journalist Uri Dan, wore on Channel 1's Yoman program 10 days ago might have been the most controversial and shocking item of clothing donned by a local celebrity.
After all, this was the man who had stuck with Sharon through thick and thin for 50 years, who was his closest friend, and who had gained fame for accurately predicting that "Just as those who didn't want Sharon as chief of staff ended up getting him as defense minister, those who didn't want him as defense minister will end up getting him as prime minister."
Yet here Dan was now on television wearing the color that has come to symbolize the struggle against the prime minister. He didn't don an orange t-shirt or sport an orange ribbon, but he made quite a statement with the tie that he bought on Paris's posh Rue de Faubourg St. Honore after his wife vetoed the purchase of an orange Swatch watch.
"I wore the tie to identify with the pain of the uprooted," Dan explained on TV.
Two days earlier, Dan had openly sparred with Sharon in a briefing for journalists at the prime minister's Paris hotel. When Dan pointed out that the same French papers that were now portraying him as a peacemaker once depicted him as a Nazi soldier, Sharon lashed out at him for "always busying himself with what used to be."
Had Sharon lost his longest-standing friendship? Was the disengagement plan the straw that broke the bond between Sharon and his hagiographer? Did Dan abandon Sharon for brighter pastures on the orange side of the fence?
IN AN interview at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel overlooking the Old City walls, Dan says that the answer to all three questions is a resounding no. He still believes in Sharon; they are still friends; and he even supports the disengagement plan, but he is very critical of the way that Sharon has carried it out.
"You can wear orange for the people of Gush Katif, still feel blue and white like Sharon and still support him," Dan says, summarizing his internal color war, and perhaps that of the prime minister as well.
Dan says he believes that Sharon would secretly also like to wear orange because he genuinely loves the people of Gush Katif whom he is uprooting, but that as prime minister, he had to make a difficult decision about the final borders of the state.
"In his spirit, in his soul, he admires the settlers and no one respects them more than he," Dan says.
"Despite his broken heart, he would love to keep his soul and theirs united in one piece."
The prime minister's only faults, according to Dan, are that he never explained to the settlers why they have to lose their homes [This was written prior to Sharon's address on Monday night, ed.] - and that he turned down a chance to obtain the endorsement of the public and prevent a possible civil war by initiating an election or a national referendum on disengagement.
Dan recalls visiting Gush Katif with Sharon in November 2000 before Sharon became prime minister. Sharon told him how much he loved talking to the people of Gush Katif and seeing blonde children with sidelocks running in the sand.
When Sharon unveiled his plan, Dan urged him privately and in his columns that run in The Jerusalem Post and Ma'ariv to go to Gush Katif and tell the settlers face-to-face why he encouraged them to settle the Gaza Strip in the past and why he had decided that now was the time for them to leave.
Dan, who worked for Sharon as his strategic and media adviser when he was defense minister, could write for the prime minister the speech that he believes should have been delivered to the people of Gush Katif a year and a half ago.
"This plan is necessary to save the Jewish people for the long-term," Dan says, in the words he wished Sharon had used. "Anyone who knows our history understands that we've never had an Arab partner. Every Zionist move to reconcile with the Arabs failed, so the borders of the Jewish state have to be consolidated in the best way possible."
Dan believes that after disengagement, Sharon will complete the process of "consolidating" those borders by drawing a frontier of settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria that includes the Jordan Valley and Hebron. He says that Sharon hinted as much in a speech he delivered at US President George W. Bush's ranch in Texas.
"Herzl declared the Jewish State in Basel and Sharon outlined its borders in Crawford," Dan says with typical aplomb. "From the moment he decided that he has to consolidate the Jewish state lines, it was as good as done."
The interview with Dan took place before Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's resignation from the cabinet, and before columnists who had championed Sharon throughout disengagement returned to predicting his imminent doom. But Dan was with Sharon long before other journalists jumped on the prime minister's bandwagon, and it is safe to say that he will be there long after both disengagement and Sharon's honeymoon with the media have ended.
Dan makes a point of saying that Sharon (unlike Netanyahu) never shook Arafat's hand. He says that the rest of the Israeli politicians are shmates (dishrags), while Sharon is "Arik Potter, the miracle-maker who lives in wonderland and tries to prevent it from turning into hell."
SHARON AND Dan met in 1954 when Dan was a reporter for the military journal Bamahane and Sharon commanded a unit of paratroopers. He later chronicled Sharon's heroics in the battle of the Mitla Pass during the 1956 Sinai War and crossing the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, wrote two books about him, and now his pictures of Sharon in the Yom Kippur War are being featured in a Tel Aviv gallery.
Dan compares Sharon to two world leaders who were called upon late in life to save their countries from war: Britain's Winston Churchill and Georges Clemenceau, the French prime minister who led the country through World War I.
In a toast Sharon delivered in Dan's honor at his birthday party a few months ago, the prime minister joked that he used to call Dan at least once a month to remind him to criticize him. Sharon doesn't have to make such calls anymore now that Dan criticizes him often, but their long-term relationship is secure.
"I survived the ambush in the Mitla Pass, crossed the Suez Canal and now I am in 2005 looking at the Old City that Ehud Barak wanted to give to Yasser Arafat, so I am optimistic," Dan says. "Of all the leaders I have known, the man who most symbolizes optimism is Sharon. He was ready to take responsibility in all the struggles for the Jewish people."
Dan acknowledges that it is more difficult to defend Sharon now than it was in the past, but he says he has reconciled himself to this situation.
"I know the truth, because I know Sharon more than his children know him, because I knew him before they were conceived," Dan says. "I am at peace with myself, because I know better."
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