The basic paradox of Israeli politics is the dove-hawk paradox: Why are the overwhelming majority of Israelis doves in their basic positions yet hawks in their voting patterns? Why are Israelis doves in the long term, but hawks in the short term? And why, even though they believe in evacuating the Jewish settlements in the territories, do they nevertheless want Ariel Sharon as prime minister?

For the most part, the explanation given to this paradox is socio-political: tribal patterns of voting and the center-versus-the periphery complex along with the elite-versus-the people complex are what cause the Israeli majority to think left but vote for the right. It will want peace but it will vote Likud.

However, a look at the data on the Israeli losses since 1986 raises the possibility that another, rational explanation exists for the dove-hawk paradox. These figures show that these past 16 years split in the clearest possible way into four different periods. Between 1986 and 1991, when the peace process was in a state of utter stagnation, an average of about 29 Israelis were killed each year in hostile actions. From 1992 to 1996, the years of the Oslo paradigm, about 86 Israelis were killed each year. From 1997 to the middle of 2000 - the three-and-a-half years during which former prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak tried to carry out various revisions in the Oslo process - about 40 Israelis were killed each year. Since the withdrawal from Lebanon and since the Camp David and Taba concessions were offered to the Palestinians, nearly 300 people a year have been killed in hostile actions.

The significance of these figures is clear: an Israeli withdrawal or a promise of a withdrawal does not lead to an end of the bloodshed. On the contrary, every time Israel withdraws, the hostilities increase. Every time Israel promises a withdrawal, the killing curve rises. Therefore, during former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir's tenure, far fewer Israelis (and Palestinians) were killed than during the tenures of former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Therefore, during the period of Netanyahu's territorial miserliness, fewer Israelis (and Palestinians) were killed than during Barak's period of territorial generosity. Thus, in the given Middle Eastern reality, handing over territory does not bring peace. Nor does it bring tranquillity. On the contrary - handing over territory costs human lives.

This does not mean that Israel must not withdraw. Sooner or later, Israel has no alternative but to withdraw. Moral imperatives, demographic figures and international political constraints oblige it to withdraw. However, what emerges unequivocally from an examination of the blood curve is that when it comes to planning its withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel must not delude itself: The withdrawal will not decrease the terror, but will increase it; the withdrawal will not decrease the national expenditure on security, but will increase it; the withdrawal will not bring quiet to our cities, but rather an outbreak of violence and the danger of war.

In contrast to the politicians, the Israeli public understands this cruel complexity. Even though they have not read the casualty figures and have not seen the variations in the blood curve, most Israelis take a rational political position that seems to have been derived from these numbers precisely. They realize that while the right's policy has no staying-power in the long term, the left's proposals are dangerous in the short term. They realize that the greatest existential challenge facing Israel during this decade is how to leave the territories while minimizing the accompanying risks: how to withdraw and stay alive.

Thus, the dove-hawk paradox is not an expression of the hysterical moods of a confused mob. The dove-hawk paradox is not the caprice of a stupid and frightened public. Indeed, the dove-hawk paradox does indicate that the Israeli majority is more mature and balanced today than it has ever been. When the Israelis tell the pollsters who knock on their doors morning and night that they want a rightist leader who will carry out a leftist policy, they are in fact saying that the dangerous and essential move of withdrawal must be carried out slowly, carefully and with good judgment. They are saying that it must be carried out in a context of building and radiating strength, and that if not, it will push up the blood curve to unprecedented heights. It will shake Israel up and endanger its existence.

It is still not too late: this week the Labor Party proved that it is beginning to wake up from the Mitzna illusion that fogged its senses for a few months. By leaving the leftists in their blazers behind and gradually moving toward the center, Labor has once again made itself a relevant political factor. Now it must go one step further: it must shake off the commitment to a precipitous withdrawal within a year and present a plan for ending the occupation that will be long term, balanced and cautious. It must prove that it understands how risky the essential withdrawal is, and it must show that it has serious answers to the risk.

If the Labor Party does this, then perhaps, nevertheless, it has a chance at the end of January. Confronting the distressing scenes coming out of the Likud Central Committee, the Labor Party will represent a hope. A clear-sighted hope this time. A hope of blood, sweat and tears.