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Yesterday's opening of the last session of the Knesset before elections was overshadowed by the infighting within the Likud. The spat is ostensibly about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's appointments of loyalists Ehud Olmert, Roni Bar-On, and Ze'ev Boim to ministerial positions. The real issue, however, is how, or if, the rift between Likud "rebels" and Sharon will be resolved.
The Likud rebels are widely portrayed as alternately intransigent and petulant. Sharon's people argue that the rebels can hardly expect to be given promotions when they not only continue to oppose the prime minister and, to add insult to injury, proclaim they will refuse attempts to "buy" them off.
At the end of the day, however, it is not possible to blame the rift on the rebels, even if Sharon is right that he is acting in the party's best interest and deserves support. What is missing here is cognizance of one of Winston Churchill's cardinal pieces of advice: "magnanimity in victory."
Sharon did, of course, invite the rebels to the Likud faction dinner he hosted on Sunday. But those who came were treated to another lecture on the need for party unity, where unity was defined as voting for Sharon's appointments and policies.
If Sharon wanted to be truly magnanimous, he would, now that disengagement has been implemented, invite ex-ministers like Uzi Landau and Natan Sharansky to return to his government. They might refuse, but if Sharon is truly interested in unity and healing, he would at least more visibly try to find a basis of agreement with disengagement opponents.
Sharon could also being doing more to use his famous bulldozer skills to plow through the bureaucracy and difficulties that former residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria are now facing in finding new homes and jobs.
Perhaps Sharon sees little reason to reconcile with his opposition on the right, whether within or outside the Likud, since it has political uses. The right has not been able to block Sharon's agenda, but it does keep him firmly planted in the center, which is an asset both at home and abroad.
Yet while such a strategy may serve to make Sharon personally indispensable, it is bad for his party and for the country. Sharon's goal should not just be to personally represent a consensus position, but to persuade at least his own party of that position.
By shepherding through disengagement, Sharon has fundamentally changed the political and diplomatic landscape. It is his job now, as leader of the nation, to build a more solid political foundation under this new reality, either within the Likud or outside of it.
If he is to stay within the Likud, then the phenomenon of a prime minister who is sustained primarily by votes from outside his party - which may have worked for passing disengagement - is not a healthy one on which to base movement forward.
This is not to say that what the country needs is a politics that is based entirely on the logic of disengagement. On the contrary, reconciliation with the right would be advisable precisely because it is not healthy for a large section of the electorate to feel disenfranchised.
Though Binyamin Netanyahu's term as prime minister is hardly thought of as a model of reconciliation, what happened during this period is instructive: The left and right did not come to agreement over Oslo, but at least each side tailored its policy agenda to that new reality.
The right has not yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, gone through such a transition, in which it adapts its agenda to the post-disengagement reality. By not working harder to mend relations with the right, Sharon is postponing such a transition, which he could help lead and shape.
Sharon can make, and no doubt has made, the argument to the right that his policy is the best way for Israel to both defend itself and define its permanent borders in a way that best fulfills our national interests. The responsibility does not fall entirely on Sharon; the right is ultimately culpable for the extent it is able to adapt to the new reality. But Sharon, as a former right-winger, the author of disengagement and as prime minister, has the primary responsibility to heal the divisions that his policies have induced.
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