Policies for a changed reality
Starting this morning, let Sharon shape his policies, including the disengagement plan, to the new reality and seek an end to the conflict without waiting years to see the extent to which Arafat has left behind a "heritage."
Eleven years ago, when the Oslo Accords came to light, settler leader Daniella Weiss demanded that it be approved by the people of Israel "throughout the generations." She wanted to say that it was not enough for a majority of Israelis to approve the move and that a referendum should be held among the entire Jewish people, from Abraham the patriarch to the present day.
Three days ago, when it became clear that the Arafat era was drawing to a close, the defense establishment set an original condition of its own before a change takes place in Israeli-Palestinian relations: to examine whether Arafat's aim of destroying Israel was his own private mania, which will disappear when he does, or whether it was a "heritage" that he passed on to his people to the end of the generations.
So here we have influential public figures - the settlement leadership in 1993 and the defense establishment in 2004 - drafting past and future into its service to avoid the necessary decisions at the fateful junctures that events have put in our path.
Weiss' demand to call upon Rabbi Gamaliel, Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon was as groundless as the demand now being made by the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff is foolish. In both cases, the Israeli position reflects a psychological and political tendency to perpetuate the status quo, when what is needed is initiative, daring and willingness to strike while the iron is hot.
In retrospect, Israel clearly contributed to the failure of the Oslo Accords. Arafat's part in dashing the understandings of 11 years ago was huge, and his departure from the stage of a vision for the Middle East liberates it from a vexing affliction. But Israel and its leaders are not absolved of contributory responsibility for the fatal entanglement created since then: the massacre at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Rabin's assassination, the attitude of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the agreement, Ehud Barak's mistakes vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority, Ariel Sharon's miserliness in the face of Abu Mazen's expectations, etc.
In order not to find ourselves in a situation of 20-20 hindsight, Israelis must encourage their leaders to draw the right conclusions from the last 11 years and not to miss the opportunity created by Arafat's departure.
It is actually an easy task: It is enough to cling to the clear and sensible statements made by the prime minister in the Knesset last week when asking for support for disengagement. Sharon's aides insisted that he wrote the speech himself, a speech deemed "Churchillian." The step it heralded - withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank - was compared to De Gaulle's decision to get France out of Algeria.
If this is, indeed, the significance of the prime minister's statements, and this is the historical dimension of his move, let him carry out his declared intent fully and bring it in line with the circumstances, which changed when Arafat took off for a hospital near Paris.
Sharon said: "I have learned from my experience that the sword alone will not settle the bitter conflict in this land. Unfortunately, there is no partner on the other side for serious discussion of a peace treaty .... Arafat chose the way of blood, fire and martyrdom. We do not want forever to rule millions of Palestinians who are doubling their number every generation."
Speaking to the Palestinians, he said: "I want you to know that we do not seek to build our lives in this homeland on your ruins. War is not a dictate from heaven."
Arafat's departure removes the main obstacle that, according to Israel, has frustrated all sincere attempts on its part to reach a compromise with the Palestinians. Let Sharon therefore take advantage of this opportunity and pour real meaning into the fine declarations he made in the Knesset.
Starting this morning, let him shape his policies, including the disengagement plan, to the new reality and seek an end to the conflict without waiting years to see the extent to which Arafat has left behind a "heritage."