Reading Sharon's mind

He wants to retain maximum maneuverability in all areas.

arik sharon main 88 (photo credit: )
arik sharon main 88
(photo credit: )
On November 19, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his final decision to leave the Likud. Just as before the major military battles he fought, he wanted to know that very evening all the final details regarding the forces he would be facing on the political battlefield. Kalman Gayer, Sharon's own pollster since 2000, presented him with his views, based on an analysis from various angles, that Sharon indeed had a good chance of winning the election if he quit the Likud and started a new party. Gayer's conclusions showed that due to his popularity, Sharon could bring his new party more than 30 Knesset seats, that the Likud would crash and burn, leaving it with only 12 seats, and that Labor headed by Amir Peretz could win over 20 seats. Of course, it was not only these poll results that caused Sharon to depart from the Likud. He was undecided up to the last minute, and had told his bureau staff of his decision only 24 hours earlier. There were a number of reasons for his hesitation. Sharon had founded the Likud in the summer of 1973. I accompanied my good friend to Beit Sokolow, after he had resigned from the army with the rank of general, where he convened a press conference to challenge the rule of the Labor Party. The time had come to replace Labor, declared Sharon, and consequently all the Zionist parties in the opposition - Herut, the Liberals, etc. - joined forces to form a new party to be known as the Likud. Most of the political pundits and cartoonists mocked Sharon's ambitions. But in 1977, Menachem Begin, at the head of the Likud, was elected prime minister. IT WAS not easy for Sharon to make the decision to abandon the home he had built with his own hands. For many long months, associates and advisers of all kinds had been pressuring him - some motivated by their own personal interests - to establish a new party. His victory last September in the Likud Central Committee against Binyamin Netanyahu encouraged him to remain in the Likud, despite his anger at the former finance minister for trying to undermine his leadership just a year before the planned elections. But immediately afterwards came a series of affronts from Likud rebels. Sharon was unsuccessful in appointing the two additional ministers from the Likud that he wanted. At a meeting of the Likud Knesset faction, some Knesset members repeatedly insulted him. Among those whose behavior towards him was offensive were Knesset members who would never have been elected if not for the fact that the Likud - with Ariel Sharon at its helm - won 40 Knesset seats in the January 2003 elections. "I cannot move a ruler or a pin without becoming involved in pointless personal and political struggles within my own party," Sharon repeatedly complained to his friends. "My situation in the Likud is intolerable." This situation in the Likud tripped all Sharon's alarm bells. He saw himself going to early elections forced upon him by radical leftist Amir Peretz and again winning 38 to 40 Knesset seats for the Likud, but once again being unable to function as prime minister. He would find himself still hostage in the hands of the rebels, and not only in the hands of extremist ideologues such as Moshe Feiglin and Uzi Landau. SHARON IS convinced that if reelected, he, with his experience as prime minister, will be able to determine Israel's security borders, both in accordance with the agreements he reached with the American government and in light of the danger posed by the continued terror offensive on the part of the Palestinians. By unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, Sharon sent a definitive message that his diplomatic-security pragmatism had taken the place of idealism. He apparently reached the conclusion that with the Likud he would be unable to maneuver along pragmatic lines, that he would be unable to zigzag - as he has proven that he can - more than any other prime minister in Israel's history. Sharon wants to retain maximum maneuverability in all areas. That is why he decided to take a calculated risk and establish a new party, despite warnings from some that his failure at the polls could bring the leftist fringe led by Amir Peretz's to power. At least Sharon knows that polls alone are not enough to bring victory and that the election campaign will be a difficult and bitter one. He also knows that there are a lot of generals that would like to enter the Knesset on his back, but that he does not yet have an organization and commanders capable of leading his many supporters to the voting booths on election day. Four months is not a long time to pull it all together. With his decision to establish the Kadima Party Sharon has already triggered a political earthquake in Israel, even greater than the one he caused back when he established the Likud. If he is in fact elected, as he believes he will be, even if only for four more years, his greatest test will lie not only in managing the struggle with the Palestinians, but also in cleaning out the governmental bureaucratic stables in order to start repairing Israeli society from the foundations up. The writer is a veteran journalist.