By Uri Dan
Throughout his career Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has always taken on impossible assignments. He therefore succeeded in a task that also seemed impossible heading the national unity government of both the Right and the Left for 20 months, during the longest, most bitter war Israel has known, within its own borders.
The day will come when it will be possible to open up and reveal the secret documents related to this period, and the public will then be totally amazed. On the one hand Israeli citizens will learn about the terrible danger they were led into by Labor Party governments. On the other, they will learn how Sharon, by including the Labor Party in his government, succeeded in reducing as far as possible the terrible damage caused by this party to the nation through the Oslo agreements.
Sharon frequently could not explain his moves, which appeared contradictory. He also remained silent when people from the Right, either because of stupidity or simple malice, attacked him for "selling his soul to Shimon Peres" at the expense of his national principles.
Only by cooperation in the government with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shimon Peres could Sharon cause the delegitimization of that other Nobel winner, Yasser Arafat. The White House is now closed to Arafat, after Peres himself, in a terrible, historic mistake, opened its gates to Arafat, on September 13, 1993, during Bill Clinton's presidency.
Only together with Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Shimon Peres could Sharon restore freedom of action to the IDF and enable it to pursue the terrorists, arrest or kill them, leave the West Bank cities and return to them, raid the Gaza Strip in other words, wage a round-the-clock anti-terror campaign.
In the complex political-military situation in which Israel finds itself, Sharon could not, as prime minister, begin the rescue of his people without backing from those leaders of the Labor Party precisely because they were the ones who had brought the catastrophe on the Jewish state.
Ben-Eliezer, who will never again be defense minister and, of course, will never be prime minister, was right when he said this week in Sharon's kitchen cabinet: "I was the cook, Shimon was the waiter, and Sharon ate." It seems they enjoyed their roles in Sharon's kitchen, although Sharon threw their Oslo menu into the garbage can.
All Ben-Eliezer's boasts about preventing "irresponsible" moves by Sharon and when he impudently added that it was now necessary "to halt both Sharon and Shaul Mofaz" are simple nonsense. Sharon, with clenched teeth, minimized the damage that could have been caused by Ben-Eliezer, also by his chattering and conceit.
PERES, BY contrast, is intellectually far superior to Ben-Eliezer. He played a much more sophisticated game. He believed he could maneuver Sharon into the Oslo trap and handcuff him. The director-general of his ministry, Avi Gil, ceaselessly tried to sabotage Sharon's moves and aid his former patron, Yossi Beilin.
The opposite occurred. Sharon completely distanced Peres and his group from the direct channel he established with the White House. While Peres tried in vain to save Arafat, Sharon convinced the US president that Arafat was no longer relevant to real negotiations with the Palestinians.
When such negotiations do come to pass, they will be held without him.
In other words, Sharon, in the 20-month campaign he waged as the head of the national unity government, turned the Labor Party into a duster he used to erase the Oslo tragedy from the blackboard. I don't know of anyone else in the top ranks of Israeli government capable of managing this campaign with the tolerance, patience, and ability displayed by Sharon, both against the Palestinians and on the local and international scenes.
I have no doubt that the time will come when the subject of the 20 months in which Sharon waged the campaign will be taught in schools of political science but not by the new historians. Even if errors were made, they were few in number, and there were no cardinal mistakes.
Now once again Ariel Sharon faces what is for him another normal challenge, described by others as an impossible assignment: to be re-elected premier.
I have known him for 48 years, and I know he'll succeed once again.
Those who didn't want Sharon the first time will elect him prime minister second time around.