To quit the territories in a year
A credible politician could reach the hearts of thousands of voters whose frustration has shoved them rightward. He should announce that if by a certain date no agreement is reached, Israel will begin withdrawing to a line that will leave 80 percent of the settlers on the western side of a well-protected and properly funded separation fence.
The Metzer massacre and the bloody battle in Hebron seemingly should have provided proof of the failure of the right-wing government's policies. With Benjamin Netanyahu on his right, Shaul Mofaz on his left and Effi Eitam breathing down his neck, Ariel Sharon has nobody to blame. The Labor Party, which supposedly prevented the unity government from expelling Yasser Arafat, is busy with its primaries. The "left," which prevented him from winning in Lebanon, is busy trying to decide whether to cast a blank ballot or vote for "Another Israel" (Yisrael Aheret). Nonetheless, the public is behaving like a battered wife who insists on going home to her violent husband. According to the polls, every terror attack strengthens Sharon and the right.
This strange collective behavior leaves helpless the forces of peace on both sides of the Green Line and further strengthens those who oppose compromise. Leftists shrug their shoulders and say it seems that there's no choice but to wait until the settlers' government brings the masses to hunger, before they'll perhaps understand the connection between the occupation in Nablus, the dead soldiers in Hebron, the massacre at Metzer and unemployment in Sderot.
There's a shorter, much cheaper way - in both lives and money - to reach the voters' hearts. It was born in the 1999 elections campaign and worked successfully in the May 2000 vote. Ehud Barak realized that the public was sick and tired of the endless years in a foreign country in the name of security. He realized that even the left had ceased believing the day would come and a political deal would put an end to the bloodshed in that foreign land, which had become a quagmire for Israel. Barak also understood that merely a politician's promise to pull out of the mud would be greeted skeptically. He decided to commit himself to the voter that with or without an agreement, in a year's time, Israel would be out of Lebanon.
That public commitment, given the day after Brig. Gen. Erez Gerstein, two soldiers and radio reporter Ilan Roeh were killed by a landmine in Lebanon, to a large degree helped Barak defeat Netanyahu. Two and a half years after the withdrawal, who remembers that Yossi Sarid moved to Margaliot, to be near the border residents when the Katyushas start falling in the Galilee? It's interesting to remember what Sarid's neighbor, Eitan Davidi, said to Ari Shavit: "Write this down. It's time for Barak to hear that the day's not far off when he'll be back in the Lebanese swamp - when the campaign is over come back and you'll see Davidi packing his bags." (Ha'aretz, April 12, 2000).
The number of dead Israelis - soldiers and civilians - in the war of attrition underway in the territories is closing in on the number of casualties in 18 years of war in Lebanon. According to all the polls, the vast majority of Israelis prefer a separation between Israel and the Palestinian state, to continuing the bloodshed. Why, therefore, does that same large public prefer the politicians who promise it the other way? Calling the public stupid is superficial and despairing. Years of settlement on the one hand and fruitless negotiations on the other, under Labor governments, eroded the faith of many wise people in the chances that party can, or wants to, reaching a compromise with the Palestinians.
The Lebanese experience shows that a credible politician, who would copy Barak's formula to the territories, could reach the hearts of tens of thousands of voters whose frustration has shoved them rightward. He should announce that if by a certain date - a year, for example - no agreement is reached, Israel will begin withdrawing to a line that will leave 80 percent of the settlers on the western side of a well-protected and properly funded separation fence. The unilateral separation would be declared a temporary arrangement, until it became clear that the state established on the other side of the fence is ready to live in peace with its Jewish neighbor.
Associates of Amram Mitzna say that if he is Labor's candidate for prime minister, on January 28, Israeli voters will be able to choose whether to keep sending their sons to the war for the protection of the Hebron settlers, or what day their sons come home.