The Likud convention is expected to decide today whether to form a government in partnership with Labor, a vote that is likely to determine whether the withdrawal from Gaza will take place as planned. There is currently no other political option that would enable the Gush Katif settlements to be evacuated on schedule.

Nor is there any other coalition that would enable the implementation of other cabinet and Knesset decisions on the disengagement. Anyone who proposes holding new elections is proposing a postponement of the withdrawal from Gaza, and perhaps even its cancelation.

Behind the scenes, rabbis and settlers are collecting soldiers' signatures on statements of refusal to carry out the evacuation, in an attempt to push kippah-wearing soldiers into refusing orders to evacuate the settlements. At the moment of truth, this activity could lead to violent clashes, perhaps unavoidable ones, between adherents of Zionist democracy and adherents of the messianic Kingdom of Israel, who refuse to accept the government's authority.

It would be better for Likud and Labor to enter this historical turning point together. Cooperation between the two parties would broaden the base of national agreement and reduce the religious nationalist right to its true proportions. The Shinui Party, which quit the coalition, should remember that the real coercion today is not necessarily that of the ultra-Orthodox - whose future entry into the government has been conditioned on their support for disengagement - but rather that of the religious Zionists, who are forcing the secular to continue ruling over the territories.

In this war over the drawing of a new, reasonable, agreed-upon border for the State of Israel, perhaps even more than in the Six-Day War when the first unity government was established, a stable emergency government is needed that will focus on the main goal and in which the political interests of its various elements will take a back seat to the shared goal of beginning to end the occupation.

It must be hoped that Likud and Labor - both of which have historic achievements in building the country, defending it and reaching peace agreements, but which also bear joint responsibility for the historic mistake of establishing the settlements - will be wise enough to work together to begin repairing this mistake. There is even historic justice in the cooperation of Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres on this matter, which has lain at their doorstep, in their various public positions, for more than 30 years.

Those who view the very establishment of a unity government as a serious democratic aberration should understand that there is no more serious aberration in Israel's democracy than its control over 1.5 million Palestinians to whom that democracy does not apply. The values of Israeli democracy today barely reach the checkpoints, and beyond these checkpoints, acts are done in the name of democracy about which most of the public would rather not know. A unity government is not generally advisable, and certainly not in a normal democracy, which needs an effective opposition as it needs air to breathe. But in the face of the anomaly of the ongoing occupation, none of this matters.

The arguments against a unity government are valid for the moment after the withdrawal. But for the withdrawal itself, the public and its elected officials must mobilize as for a war and carry out the task with as many political forces as possible consolidated behind it.