During his address at last month's Likud Central Committee meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said repeatedly that the Likud must accept its role as the ruling party and act with national responsibility.
The odd thing about Sharon's insistent assertion is that it is he, through his policies since the start of his first term as prime minister in 2001, who has done more than anyone to prevent the Likud from exerting national leadership that befits the national ruling party.
It was Sharon, in collusion with Shimon Peres who prevented general elections from taking place in 2001 for the sole purpose of blocking Binyamin Netanyahu's return to the Prime Minister's Office. Using a legally dubious interpretation of the elections law as it stood at the time, Sharon and Peres connived to prevent general elections to the Knesset, keeping the fractured 1999 Knesset, in which the Likud had in place only 19 MKs versus Labor's 26, and enabling the public to vote only for the prime minister.
This Sharon did despite the fact that opinion polls from December 2000 projected that Likud stood to win more than 40 Knesset seats while Labor would be decimated, dropping to a mere 15 seats. The devolution of the Oslo process into the Oslo War had brought about a complete rejection of Labor with this appeasement based ideology by voters and a clarion call for national leadership by the Likud.
Yet Sharon refused to listen. What interested him was being prime minister and this he could do only by preventing voters from exercising their right to choose their representatives in the Knesset.
So Sharon's first government, with Shimon Peres serving as foreign minister and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer as defense minister was completely non-representative of the public will. The public wanted a government reflective of its sentiments – that is a right-wing government led by the Likud. Instead it had a left-wing government led by Sharon.
When, in 2003, the public showed that its sentiment had not waned and the Likud won 38 Knesset seats to Labor's 19, it was clear again that the public had asked Likud to take on the mantle of national leadership and move forward with its anti-appeasement, pro-Israel agenda. But Sharon again balked.
RATHER THAN leading the country on the basis of his platform, within a year he was in open warfare with his own party as he first accepted the Quartet's so-called road map, the most anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian document ever brought before the Israeli government for approval, and then adopted the Labor's election-losing platform of unilateral surrender of territory to Palestinian terrorists that had just months before been completely rejected by Israeli voters.
In an effort to silence criticism of his policies, Sharon has repeatedly stated that "what you see from here [the prime minister's chair] you can't see from there." The meaning here is obvious: As prime minister, I am privy to information that you – mere citizens of Israel, members of the Likud, members of Knesset and government ministers don't know. And therefore, you can't question my judgment because of my unique perspective.
Sharon's protestation of special knowledge which delivers him from the need to debate and defend his policies is matched by his insistence of viewing any opposition to his policies as a personal attack. By dismissing all opponents as either "self-serving hacks" or "extremists," Sharon delegitimizes not simply the notion of policy debate, but also the idea that people can have political and even moral convictions that outweigh their loyalty to the head of their party. So it is that every government minister who opposes Sharon's policies is criticized by Sharon and his allies as subversive, untrustworthy, self-serving and disloyal.
In so doing Sharon has dumbed-down public discourse to the point where the virtues of politicians rather than the virtues of policies that will impact the lives of every Israeli for years to come has become the only acceptable focus of discussion.
In behaving as he has for the past three and a half years, Sharon has harmed not only his party – which he has systematically demonized – he has harmed Israeli democracy.
It is not just that on every significant political and military issue he has ignored the advice of his party members, MKs and government ministers, preferring Labor policies instead. It is that in his assertion that it is all about him, and not his policies, he has served to undermine the legitimacy of the very notion that democratic governments' policies must reflect the wishes of the voters as they made them clear on election day, not those of the politicians who serve at their consent.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post's Yom Kippur supplement.