If Yasser Arafat has nine lives, Ariel Sharon has nine deaths.
With the news that the Likud Party had rejected his Gaza pullout plan, Sharon's long-frustrated mourners got all revved up to sit shivah.
This time, he would not escape. This time, the hit had been delivered by his virtual sons and daughters. Not his old lefty enemies but the very settlers he settled in Gaza going back north of 30 years ago. Fratricide and patricide had done the deed, and not even the canny old warrior could beat that exacta.
Welcome to the 10th death.
Sharon will neither quit nor be forced out of his premiership. Those who think otherwise call him a leader without a party and thus a terminal case.
The reality is that Likud without Sharon is a party without a leader. If it tries to push him out, it won't be a party at all - it will go the way of the Whigs.
The only man who might have been able to bury Sharon was Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, the former prime minister. He praised Sharon on Gaza after President Bush backed the deal last month. But the lean and hungry Bibi, reading the polls and thinking that Sharon would be indicted on corruption charges stemming from some family hanky-panky, sat out the Gaza referendum, telling callers they should "vote their conscience."
Netanyahu had lost his credibility and his office because of opportunism as soon as he won the premiership, he dumped Sharon and just about all the other Likud supporters who got him elected - but he had regained esteem by doing a terrific job as the finance minister.
Now, smelling a return to the top job, Bibi reverted to form, proving again that it's easier to cure AIDS than a character defect. What I'm hearing now from Israel is that he doesn't even have two lives.
Take him out, and Likud has no alternative to Sharon.
Nor should we forget that the referendum vote against Sharon amounted to a small percentage of Likud and a minuscule portion of the great majority of Israelis who want out of Gaza.
None of this is to excuse Sharon for betting wrong on the Gaza referendum. He did it under pressure from his cabinet, and he thought he would win. After Bush supported him, he was sure of it, and the early polls told him he had it, 2 to 1.
He should have read Robert Dahl, the retired Yale political science professor, who wrote that in a democracy, an intense and dedicated minority will always overcome an apathetic majority. The Likudniks who stayed home on referendum day bore witness to that truth.
More serious for Israel are the attacks on Bush for supporting Sharon's Gaza plan, none more egregious than a Nicholas Kristof column in The New York Times. Kristof's answer to our troubles in Iraq was to demand that Bush "disentangle ourselves from Ariel Sharon, that bloodstained figure embraced by President Bush as 'a man of peace.'"
Echoing the worst anti-Israel voices in Europe and the Arab world, Kristof said that by assassinating Hamas leaders and threatening to do the same to Arafat, Sharon "undermines" our efforts in Iraq.
Sharon used to say he would prefer a hundred battles against Arabs to one fight against Jews.
I'm okay on that, but Sharon ought not ignore Nicholas Kristof and his ilk.