Tel Aviv - A picture engraved in memory: Ariel Sharon in the Knesset. The member on the podium waves his arms, denouncing and cursing him. Sharon sitting at the government table. Alone. Immovable. Massive and passive. A rock in the raging sea.
This is the man who decided alone to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle the settlements. A believer in God might say, "This is a miracle from heaven. Mysterious are the ways of the Almighty."
The foreign journalists are asking again and again, why did he do it? What caused him to devise the disengagement plan?
There are several answers. The plan was not the result of consultations. Prior to it, there was no orderly staff work, neither military nor civil. Sharon just drew it from his sleeve, so to speak, when he threw it into the air a year and a half ago. It answered several immediate requirements.
As will be remembered, the Americans demanded that he come up with some peace initiative. President Bush needed this in order to demonstrate that he was promoting peace and democracy in the Middle East. Sharon also wanted to pre-empt other peace plans that were hovering around. The Geneva Initiative was gathering momentum throughout the world. His Disengagement Plan swept it from the table. Later, it did the same for the Road Map, which required Sharon to freeze the settlements and remove the "outposts."
Of course, Sharon did not remotely expect a life-and-death struggle with the settlers, his proteges and house guests. He was sure he would be able to convince them that his was a wise and far-sighted move.
Then there were the mortar shells and Qassam missiles, which played an important role. The Israeli army had no ready answer to these weapons, and the price of holding the Gaza Strip was becoming too great a strain on the army's resources.
Already, dozens of years ago, Sharon reached the conclusion that he was the only person capable of leading the nation. He reasoned that anyone who blocks his way is committing a crime against the people. That is, of course, true also for anyone who hinders the disengagement, which - for him - is the first chapter of his grand design.
Sharon's worldview is simple, not to say primitive. His real mentor was David Ben-Gurion. Sharon's is a classic Zionist ideology, consistent and pragmatic: to enlarge the borders of the Jewish state as much as possible, in a continuing process, without including in it a non-Jewish population. To settle everywhere possible, using every possible trick. To do much and talk little about it.
Moshe Dayan, another pupil of Ben-Gurion's, in one of his more revealing speeches, preached to the country's youth that this is a continuous enterprise. "You have not started it and you will not finish it!" he said. The conflict is a permanent situation.
That is also Sharon's outlook. He wants to expand Israel's borders as much as possible and minimize the number of Arabs within them. Therefore, it makes sense to him to give up the tiny Gaza Strip with the million and a half Palestinians living there, and also the centres of Palestinian population in the West Bank.
He wants to annex the settlements and sparsely populated areas where new communities can be set up. He is content to leave to future generations the problem of the Palestinian enclaves.
Ben-Gurion laid down a basic principle: the state of Israel has no borders. Borders freeze the existing situation, and to this Israel cannot agree. Therefore, all his successors, including Yitzhak Rabin, were ready to reach interim agreements but never a final agreement that would fix permanent borders.
Many opposed the disengagement because of Sharon's long-term intentions. But history shows that intentions are not necessarily important. Those who set in motion historical processes do not control the results. The fathers of the French Revolution did not intend to give birth to Napoleon; Karl Marx certainly did not intend to set up Stalin's gulag empire.
This week, a great event took place: the settlement enterprise, which has always moved forward, is for the first time moving backwards. And that is more important than the intentions - good or bad - of Ariel Sharon.