Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sharon's deepening crisis of legitimacy

This month, as the right massed in tens of thousands to assail Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the conduct of his disengagement campaign, denouncing his drive to evacuate settlements as lacking all legitimacy, one of the most respected advocates of the withdrawal initiative lent her voice in unlikely backing for the prime minister's critics.

'The central question is that of legitimacy,' said Ruth Gavison, one of Israel's foremost professors of law and a founder and former president of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

'The Sharon government today has no clear legitimacy for the move that it is making,' she said of the disengagement campaign, noting that the plan has yet to be approved either by the cabinet or the Knesset.

'It is not at all certain that we should cooperate with this move, which threatens to take people out of their homes under the authority of such a shaky [legal] basis, without even so much as a cabinet decision.'

In fact, a number of attempts by Sharon to win formal backing for the plan have either been blunted or brusquely rebuffed.

In May, the prime minister's bid to garner momentum for disengagement through a referendum of members of his Likud party ended in a humiliating defeat.

A month later, Sharon's cabinet balked at ratifying the initiative. So divided was the cabinet that the prime minister ultimately sacked two far-right National Union ministers to ensure a majority.

But even then, three of his five senior Likud ministers withheld their votes until the prime minister agreed to limit the decision to an anemic resolution on preparations for a possible future disengagement, which would then be subject to a potentially crippling series of phases and cabinet reconsiderations."