The horse is out of the stable
Last Friday, I stated in this column that I could write a big fat book about why I changed my mind about Sharon at least 20 times. Make that 21. The Great Zigzagger, who has always done the opposite of what he says, and said the opposite of what he does, has suddenly displayed political vision: He is calling for an end to occupation.
The use of a word no Israeli prime minister before him has used, and which has never appeared on any official paper issued or signed by Israel, knocked the leftists off their chairs. Sharon is the last person they ever expected to pass them on the left. He is the last person anyone expected to get up at a Likud meeting
swarming with reporters and TV cameras, and tell it like it is: that the time has come to divide the country and establish a Palestinian state; that ruling 3.5 million Palestinians is bad for Israel, the economy and the Palestinians; that occupation cannot continue indefinitely. "Do you want to stay in Bethlehem, Jenin and Nablus?" he asked.
Even when Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein pointed out that "occupation" is not in our lexicon and the proper terminology is "disputed territories," even when Uzi Landau and his pals howled, Sharon stood his ground. You may not like the word, he said, but that's what it is: occupation. A genuine Sharon in Beilin's clothing.
In private conversation, and for foreign relations purposes, Sharon has spoken many times about establishing a Palestinian state (in practice, he says, it already exists). In the Likud Central Committee, he debated with Netanyahu on this issue and won. But Sharon, being Sharon, said one thing and did another.
Adopting the American road map, on the other hand, is a real enterprise. It is more than empty words. It presents us with a timetable of what we have to do and when, until a Palestinian state gets off the ground. A Sharon associate is furious with those who call it a trick. There's a goal, here, he says. In his opinion, Sharon is following in the footsteps of Ben-Gurion, who fought bitterly over the country's borders but agreed in the end to partition, making do with whatever he could get. The bottom line is to get what you can get, without running the risk of an imposed solution or rupturing ties with America. From this standpoint, says the associate, Sharon is the last Mapainik.
Sharon, who has foisted the blame on his superiors throughout his career, has finally discovered that the buck stops at his door. Or to use his words, "you see things from here that you don't see from there." But with a sly devil like Sharon, nothing is as simple as it appears. There is no question that he is very anxious not to aggravate Bush, who is having enough trouble in these preelection times after no weapons of mass destruction were discovered in Iraq and the situation there is getting complicated.
Bush is looking for a quick fix in our neighborhood. It's no coincidence that the moment we agreed to the road map, which was literally forced on us, the president rushed to set up two summits in the region. We're talking about a timetable that is meant to produce a temporary Palestinian state by the end of the year. And when Bush puts the heat on, you don't play around.
But behind this visible motive, there may also be a hidden one: Sharon is going through a maturation process and beginning to digest the bitter truth that he cannot eradicate terror and improve the economic situation without a political solution. His role models among his contemporaries are Peres, Dayan, Rabin and Weizman - all of them hawks who went down in history as peacemakers. As someone who wants to join their ranks, he is preparing public opinion for giving up parts of the country and making those famous "painful concessions." What he will be judged by, of course, are the results.
In the "Why I Changed My Mind About Sharon" anthology, there is still room for changes. For example, the possibility that Sharon really is taking us for a ride. But even if he finds some opportunity or excuse for not leaving the territories, it doesn't really matter. Because he can't get out of what he said this week. In declaring that there is no solution apart from ending the occupation and dividing the country, he has created the vision that will bring us another step closer to peace and tranquillity.
Even if he didn't mean it, even if he has regrets, even if he goes back to his old refrain, the horse is out of the stable, and you'll never get it to go back in.