Sharon has turned Shinui from roaring lions to purring kittens, willing to sit with UTJ.

This may sound a little strange, but Shas, the party that is hardly being considered in the coalition negotiations, is actually the greatest influencing factor in coalition developments. There is an apparent run-around between Likud-Labor-Shinui-UTJ. Shas, however, more than any other factor, is the party that caused Lapid and his fellow Shinui members to get off their high horse, and realize they have to negotiate coalition terms with the ultra-Orthodox.

Until a few days ago, non-inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox was the main plank in Shinui’s platform, which jump-started Lapid’s late political career, and transformed the party from a never was the third largest party.

As is commonplace in the political world, Lapid and Poraz have had to come to terms with the fact that playing in the big league can endanger one’s political virginity. In their case, this means having to be in the same bedroom with UTJ, as much to ensure Shas remains out as to keep their posteriors glued to their comfortable ministerial seats.

The worst scenario for Shinui, something that could happen only in their worst nightmare, would be the inclusion of Shas in the coalition. This scenario could be the nail in their coffin. If Shas is in, then Shinui is out; there is no middle ground, given the hostility and hatred between the leaders and their respective rank and file. For years each has painted the other as evil incarnate, with Shinui portraying Shas as a threat to democracy and rule of law, and Shas seeing in Shinui a bunch of bigoted, Sephardim-hating godless atheists. The antipathy between Shinui and Shas is far more intense than that between Shinui and UTJ.

Lapid and his mates have decided that prevention is the best cure, better to risk getting fleas from a liaison with UTJ than an STD from Shas.

Sharon, however, is a political swindler. Having succeeded in getting Shinui to swallow a fly in the form of UTJ, it is at least even money that he will subsequently get them to eat the Shas crow.

Sharon is doing what he needs to do. He needs Labor in the government to proceed with the disengagement plan; and he needs the ultra-Orthodox, preferably Shas too, in the government to calm the Likud members down about the fact that Labor is in the government. If it were up to him, he would keep the ultra-orthodox in the wilderness until the cows come home. However, realizing that politics is the art of the possible, he knows this is not on for now.

Shinui did the smart thing, albeit belatedly when it ended its UTJ bashing. It would be even better if they acted the same way towards Shas. With a little bit less condescendence and hatred that they let flow during the elections, Shinui could have totally prevented being stuck on such an uncomfortably high and isolated perch. Hopefully, the experience will teach Lapid that in politics, one should never say never.

However, Shinui seems intent on repeating its mistakes. As it gets off one hobbyhorse it is mounting another, demanding that UTJ enter the government with a second-class ticket, not having any ministers and relinquishing the post of Chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. These demands are unrealistic, and Shunui will have to compromise again, losing more respect in the process.

The only people who might be able to save Shinui from itself are the last people that Shinui actually wants to be dependant on, the ultra-Orthodox rabbinical leaders, the Torah Sages. They could forbid UTJ from sitting in a coalition with Shinui, pulling its chestnuts out of the fire. In that case, Sharon will have to buck his central committee and party activists and form a secular coalition. Lapid, as a true European gentleman, would be obligated to send a large bunch of flowers to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as a sign of gratitude.

The writer was born in Tel Aviv, graduated from the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva and Tel Aviv University. An ex-member of Kibbutz Saad, he has held senior positions in Maariv since 1967. Won the Sokolov Journalist Prize in 1983.

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