It was difficult to decide whether to react with laughter or shame at the resolute protest voiced by the leader of the opposition with regard to the fact that 50,000 Likud members are dictating policy to an entire country.
And what if the referendum had ended in a victory by 500 votes for the supporters of the disengagement plan? Would the architect of Oslo have protested the procedure nevertheless; and would he have rejected Ariel Sharon's invitation to join his government?
The position of the Labor Party, under Shimon Peres, with regard to the unilateral disengagement plan shows that its leadership has yet to internalize the separation from Sharon. The main opposition party is crawling blindfolded on the trail of a strategy that immediately contradicts the Oslo agreement - the most significant achievement the peace camp has made since the start of the occupation in 1967.
In its eagerness to support the Sharon plan, the Labor Party abandoned the two principles of the Oslo agreement: First of all, Oslo's objective is not the evacuation of the settlements, but a peace deal. And secondly, under the Oslo accord, every detail of the peace deal, and the road to it, will be worked out solely through negotiations - with no unilateral steps whatsoever.
The affliction of despair for peace and dialogue has also spread to Peace Now, which is handing out the "Evacuating settlements - a choice for life" stickers. One could easily think the stickers came from a campaign office set up by Sharon's supporters ahead of the Likud referendum. What happened to "Land for peace"? And what about "Peace is better than a Greater Israel"? Where is the "Two states for two nations" sticker? They're all gone. Peace Now's next sticker will be "The separation fence - a choice for security."
The settlers are right. The evacuation of 7,500 of them won't bring peace any closer, and won't save lives either. For Yasser Arafat to consider stopping the religious fundamentalists from waging war, there is a need to evacuate more than 100,000 settlers, to replace territories with areas inside the Green Line, to divide Jerusalem, to forgo sovereignty on the Temple Mount and to agree that a solution to the refugee problem will be based on UN Resolution 194.
To restore peace to the consciousness of the Israeli and Palestinian publics, the leaders of the "peace camp" must bless the settlers for releasing them from the trap of a unity government that Sharon laid for them in the form of the unilateral disengagement plan.
Sharon said himself that there is nothing that speaks higher praise for his plan than the protests it evoked among the Palestinian leadership, but it is only with this leadership that peace can be negotiated.
The void left behind after the failure of the disengagement plan is an invitation to the lovers of peace to remove Sharon from the agenda once and for all, and to make a choice for peace anew. This can't be done by touting peace slogans and humming protest songs in Rabin Square. Euphemisms work not only in the service of the right. Mundanely calling for "a return to the peace negotiating table" or for "the renewal of the peace process" is no help at all.
Against partial and unilateral initiatives, such as the disengagement from Gaza or the invasive separation fence, the peace-lovers can present complete, bilateral and detailed peace plans. The plans should include borders and solutions to all the issues in dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, and not between Israel and itself. The Clinton plan, the Geneva understandings and the Nusseibeh-Ayalon document are waiting for political leaders to haul them out of mothballs.
Before everything, the Labor leaders, the Shinui doves, the Peace Now activists and even the Yahad hawks must disassociate themselves from the "there's no partner" perception that Ehud Barak has so skillfully imparted since his failure at the Camp David summit in 2000 and his crushing defeat in the elections of 2001.
Politicians are entitled to bask in the title of leader only if they are prepared to swim upstream. There was a time when Shimon Peres was like that, and he won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pains. On Saturday night, in Rabin Square, he will have an opportunity to say a last good-bye to Sharon and to call on President Bush to declare, in 2005 of all years, the establishment of a Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, that will live in peace - yes, in P-E-A-C-E - with Israel.
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