-- In Hebrew, physicists call the theory about the formation of
the universe the hamapatz hagadol - the "big bang." In Israeli politics,
that phrase is used today to describe the potential realignment
of parties and power.
Ariel Sharon's plan to "disengage" from Palestinians now under the
spell of terrorist leaders brought this simmering pot to a boil.
calls for completing a security fence to protect almost all Israelis
and pulling back into the well-defended territory the remainder
of those now most vulnerable in Gaza and the West Bank.
Once a divisive
figure, the former general is supported in this plan by an overwhelming
majority of Israeli citizens. Like him, they are realists: Israel
needs defensible borders and cannot absorb Palestinians nearby.
But 7,000 deeply
religious and courageous Jewish settlers - who live amid the 1.2
million Arabs in Gaza - see this as a double-cross. Within the Likud
Party that Sharon founded three decades ago, they are an admired
force of pioneers. As a result, though Arik wins landslides in national
elections, he loses to supporters of settlers in referendums within
his rightist party.
The day of decision
in the Knesset to adopt his disengagement plan is near. (Coincidentally,
it will be in the first week in November, as elections are held
in the U.S.)
The level of
fury and viciousness is worse than in the days before the assassination
of Yitzak Rabin. Sharon, the lifelong embodiment of Israeli security,
is being reviled as a traitor and threatened with death. Members
of the Israeli Defense Forces are urged to disobey orders to dislodge
settlers when moving day comes. Febrile minds in the settler minority
even warn of civil war.
At a tense moment
like this, Sharon expects members of his coalition cabinet to speak
out for his government's plan. They vote his way - 9 to 1 in the
cabinet this week to richly compensate the settlers being moved
- but some of the Likudniks are keeping mum, lest they upset the
hardest-line members of their own party.
who as Sharon's strong finance minister is becoming the Jewish Alexander
Hamilton, has found a way to hedge. On the one hand, he votes in
the cabinet for disengagement, even as his family loudly denounces
it; on the other, Bibi proposes delaying the November disengagement
vote until a national referendum can be held.
has Sharon seething. He knows the momentum of battle, and sees delay
as destructive. A referendum requires legislation, with lengthy
debate, a probable filibuster and a wrangle over whether Arabs can
participate. He believes that deviation from his timetable - surrendering
to threats of violence from within - would mean six months of paralysis
and a loss of the initiative.
I sent in a
single query to Arik about Bibi's suggestion. An aide passed back
his response: "I hear all sorts of suggestions, but not one word
from him about the incitement to civil war. Not one word."
I think there
will be no referendum or election before the Knesset vote to disengage.
Sharon's plan will carry with the support of either the Shimon Peres
or the Ehud Barak faction of Labor, the centrist Shinui Party and
Now let's consider
the possibility of a political big bang. That convergence of forces
on the disengagement vote could be the genesis of "New Likud." The
anti-Arik faction of Likud would go its own way, hitching up with
several of the religious parties.
guess is that Bibi would choose the New Likud, which would reflect
the Israeli majority. After Arik retires, like Cincinnatus, to his
farm - and with a new Palestinian leader ready to become a partner
in creating a peaceful neighborhood - the Hamiltonian Bibi would
compete for leadership with the Sharon loyalist Ehud Olmert, former
mayor of the still-undivided Jerusalem.
Thus, the Israeli
system would have the gall to divide into three manageable parts,
with the center party making deals for a majority with left and
right. Not a bad way to run a parliamentary democracy.
Having had the
chutzpah to predict from afar the coming hamapatz hagadol, let me
wish a sweet and peaceful Rosh Hashana to one and all.