Jerusalem, August 16

The weekend before the disengagement from Gaza began, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told Israel’s most widely read political commentator Nahum Barnea, “Maybe I haven’t done enough to explain to the public the change in my positions.” Of course, he added that he was not a master communicator, but a doer.

Now he seems intent on proving both.

As Israeli army soldiers began knocking on the doors of the 8,000 Gaza settlers, to inform them that they have a few days to leave voluntarily, the 77-year-old Sharon asked to speak to the nation on prime-time TV. This morning, the liberal daily Ha’aretz labeled it “The Speech of His Life,” but the truth is that the prime minister gave a good imitation of a petrified zombie, glaring/staring slightly off camera, clearly not in the league of Churchill, Reagan, Clinton or his nemesis Benjamin Netanyahu.

If Fidel Castro used to spend six hours trying to explain his policies to the Cubans, Sharon could barely manage ten rather uninspiring minutes. As for an explanation of why, all he said was, “The changing reality in this country, in this region, and in the world required another reassessment and changing of positions.” The father of the settlement project added that Israel has to leave Gaza because “over 1 million Palestinians live there in incredibly cramped refugee camps, poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon.”

This is the same Sharon who, as a young man in the wars of 1948 and 1956, was declared untrustworthy by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. The same Sharon who in 1982 misled Prime Minister Menachem Begin, turning a “forty-eight- to seventy-two-hour military campaign” into the bloody Lebanon War and eighteen years of a bogged-down Israeli military presence in the Lebanese mud (shades of Vietnam and Iraq). The same Sharon who was the target of countless antiwar demonstrations over the years, culminating in the famous 400,000-strong demonstration after the massacres carried out by the Lebanese Phalangists in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, with Israeli complicity.

Now Sharon is the target of 70,000 right-wing prayers at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, and 150,000 anti-disengagement demonstrators in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. The ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher Hasidic sect actually published a full-page ad in Ha’aretz on Monday, directed to Sharon, imploring him to “Stop at the Last Moment.”

But he didn’t stop.

So why is he doing this? The bestselling book Boomerang, by journalists Ofer Shelah and Raviv Druker, claims that he wanted to divert attention from corruption scandals involving himself and his sons, something that Sharon categorically denies. His senior adviser lawyer Dov Weisglass lists a number of reasons: concern when senior pilots and officers in elite combat units became refuseniks, declaring that they could no longer serve in a growing immoral occupation. Concern that government passivity was an inadequate answer to civil society initiatives like the Geneva Accord model for a resolution of the conflict, and that the international community would fill the vacuum with an imposed solution. Some believe that Sharon wants to provide President Bush and Prime Minister Blair with a Middle Eastern bone to help relieve the heat coming from the Iraqi quagmire. Many Palestinians and Israelis on the radical left believe that he wants a trade-off: Give up the Gaza Strip in exchange for solidifying control over the West Bank.

The truth is that all of these explanations are just guesses. Sharon has simply not given a clear explanation for his actions, and is not giving any serious indication of his future plans, if he has any, other than his desire to remain in power. Thus it’s not surprising that the anti-disengagement orange ribbons still dominate the street, and that there have been no mass demonstrations in support of Sharon and the disengagement. Yet about 60 percent of the public, in all the opinion polls, consistently support the move.

On the day it all began, the mass-circulation daily Yediot Ahronot featured four items on its front page. One, by Nahum Barnea, was titled “Gaza First,” with the rest to follow; a second, “The Partition Plan,” by military commentator Alex Fishman, described “the first practical step toward the division of the land into two states for two nations”; a third, by Likud Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, was titled “A Brave Move.” There was only one anti-disengagement piece, by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, titled “We Are Brothers.”

So the media is also with Sharon, and Operation Hand to Our Brothers is rolling on, and will be completed within ten days–if everything goes according to schedule.