JERUSALEM – Living in Israel, I can’t see "The Sopranos" first run. But who needs to watch Tony and Johnny sack once a week when I can see the Boss, Ariel "The Bulldozer" Sharon (search), at work every day?
The headcount showed that Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan wasn’t going to pass his Cabinet, so he simply rolled heads until it would. And in a manner that would have made Michael Corleone proud, there was no emotion involved in it.
Sharon did not go after Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (search), a fellow Likud Party member who led the charge to defeat the plan. Putting a hit out on someone in the family is a last resort. The prime minister rolled the heads of the Tourism minister and the Transportation minister -- both members of the National Union Party (search ).
It had nothing to do with roads or hotel vacancies and it was nothing personal. The Boss just needed the numbers to add up. His Gaza plan was losing by one vote, whack two opposing ministers … it’s wining by one … and that’s that.
Do you remember when Joe Pesci (search ) in "Goodfellas" got invited to a house in order to "be made" -- when in fact he was being led to his own "whacking?"
Both Tourism Minister Benny Elon (search) and Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman (search ) received invitations to the prime minister's office. Their demise was waiting on the other side of the prime minister’s receptionist.
Not surprisingly, they both found their calendars were full. This created a great chase around Jerusalem. The prime minister needed to give them official notification of their dismissals 48 hours before his Gaza vote was taken. So he dispatched couriers with pink slips to notify the ministers that they’ve been whacked. The ministers went on the lam.
Benny Elon joined the minister protection program and disappeared to Netzarim, one of the very settlements that would be dismantled if the plan passed.
Reminiscent of Moe Green (search), the casino boss who took a bullet in the eye while on the massage table in the first "Godfather," Avigdor Lieberman was in a Jerusalem gym when he got his pink slip. I’ve heard conflicting reports as to whether he was on the treadmill or an exercise bike … but fuhgetaboudit … he got whacked.
Elon surfaced the day before the vote in a Jerusalem hotel. He made it clear he was planning to dodge his pink slip, show up at Sunday morning’s Cabinet meeting and keep the Gaza withdrawal (search ) from happening.
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said Elon didn’t need his slip. He had been talking to reporters and acknowledging the prime minister’s desire to fire him. So, bada boom … he sleeps with the political fishes.
You see, Israeli politics can resemble a chess game in which body slams and knocking the board over are legal. Only the prime minister seems to know the rules and reserves the right to change the rules if he doesn’t like the way the game is progressing. I talked with Sharon’s spokesman, Rannan Gissen, who made no bones about it. "He’s re-shuffling the deck."
It’s perfect that one of the wire reports Sunday called Sharon "The Godfather of the settlements." He built them. He championed them and he funneled money to build the subdivisions surrounded by razor wire, concrete barriers and soldiers. In the Gaza Strip, settlements are also surrounded by 1.3 million angry Palestinians, who want them gone.
Then one day, as prime minister, Sharon changed his mind. It is more involved than that. But then again, it isn’t. The Boss just decided to get out of the Gaza Strip (search ).
Sharon proposed a Gaza "disengagement." The details have been hashed around and hacked apart, but the backbone of the idea is to evacuate the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. Once the settlers are out of Gaza, the soldiers would no longer be needed to protect them and Palestinians would be left to their own plot of land and their own problems.
He took his plan to the White House and President Bush liked it. In fact GWB liked it so much he promised Israel more than it had received from any past administration. Israel could permanently retain some of the big settlement blocks in the West Bank and Palestinians could no longer demand that they return to their old neighborhoods in Israel. Sharon had potentially achieved all of this without engaging his longtime nemesis Yasser Arafat (search ).
In an effort to build more political clout, the prime minister decided to take the plan to a referendum of his Likud Party voters. He promised to abide by whatever the voters decided and never counted on the passion of the people who are even farther right than he is.
The right campaigned hard. You couldn’t drive through Jerusalem without getting a knock on your window from someone handing you a bumper sticker or campaign material that said "vote no, the Gaza pullout is a reward for terrorism." There are fewer than 200,000 registered Likud Party members in Israel, but everyone got lobbied from the right.
The Boss had promised to abide by the Likud Party decision, but that was apparently only if he won. The pullout was clobbered at the polls. Now, with the promises made in Washington, he had too much to lose and "the Bulldozer" kept rolling.
There were some attempts at "compromising" the pullout plan so the prime minister could say he was pushing something different. The most current form of the pullout involves a phased withdrawal. But in the end, you either have settlers in the Gaza Strip or you don’t. Even the most skillful spinsters would have a hard time making that look like something else. No one was really trying.
Most ministers on the right would not go for the plan. The Likud ministers said they couldn’t. Their constituents just sent the pullout to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea in cement shoes. Sharon now expected them to pull it to dry land and give it mouth to mouth. That is why Netanyahu, Education Minister Limor Livnat (search) and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search ) turned on Sharon and turned against the plan.
I asked Gissen if firing the ministers from the National Union Party was meant to send a message to the ministers in Likud.
"Of course" He said. "They don’t want to end up outside the government."
"It’s cold outside."
Gissen went on to lecture that Ariel Sharon had built the Likud Party after 1973 Yom Kipper War (search). Apparently he was looking for a reporter to deliver a threat to the other ministers when he said, "He’ll re-build it if necessary."
What Sharon will need to re-build is his government. He may win in the Cabinet but he’s about to lose control of the Knesset (search ).
You see there isn’t a two-party system in Israel. It’s more like a hodgepodge of the Gambino and Genovese families of New York. They form alliances and stay in power. If the prime minister forms enough alliances and keeps more than 60 of the 120 Knesset members on his side, he’s still the boss.
In response to the "whacking" of their own ministers, members of the National Union Party will turn their seven Knesset members against Sharon. The pro-settler National Religious Party (search) will likely leave him and take six seats with them. Sharon will be left with 55 seats and a problem.
A big part of the problem is the fact that most Israelis want out of the Gaza Strip. Polls show that between 70 and 80 percent of them are tired of seeing soldiers killed to protect 7,500 Jews who live there.
So, about two weeks ago, Israelis from the left and center gathered in Rabin Square (search) -- the same plot of real estate where in 1982 they rallied for Sharon’s demise as defense minister. People from the Labor Party (search), the party of Shimon Perez (search) and Yitzhak Rabin (search), held up signs reading, "Ariel Sharon, the people are with you." And that’s where the solution to his problem lies.
In the end, Ariel Sharon will likely look to the Labor Party, people he has long considered opponents. Behind closed doors, he has probably called them "soft" and "unpatriotic." Now he just calls them.
There’s no rule that says he can’t do that. At least I think there’s no rule. But "The Bulldozer" is the Boss. He knows the rules. If he doesn’t like them, he’ll change them.