During the Oslo decade, Likud activists raised two main arguments against their opponents. One portrayed the left as cut off from reality; the other said the left was cut off from the nation. Both arguments were weighty. Ignoring reality and scorning the gut feelings of the Israeli majority were the two major sins committed by the left in the 1990s. These two sins brought about the collapse of the peace process, the defeat of the peace camp and the evaporation of the left as a relevant political force. These two sins made Ariel Sharon's Likud the hegemonic party in Israel.
Now, however, the Likud, as the ruling party, faces a similar danger. The tendency of a large portion of its members to vote against the disengagement plan today is utterly ruinous. It represents a right-wing cloning of the two sins of pride of the Oslo era: the sin of ignoring reality and the sin of patronizing the broad Israeli majority. Consequently, if the Likud's members today prefer Benny Begin and Uzi Landau over Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, they will do to the Likud of the 21st century what Beilinism did to the peace camp of the last decade of the 20th century. In short, they will transform it into a marginalized, hallucinatory political body, which is doomed to live on the far fringes of the political map.
In the 1960s and `70s Menachem Begin recorded a major accomplishment for the national right: he transformed Herut-Gahal-Likud from a fanatic, persecuted minority into a legitimate and vibrant mass movement. It's a movement that is not so much faithful to the Land of Israel as represents the people of Israel; that does not so much preserve mummified ideological principles as reflects the spirit of popular vitality. For good and for bad, Menachem Begin turned the Likud into a people's party, Israeli style.
His son, Benny Begin, is currently doing the opposite. The dogmatic piper of anachronistic nationalism is busy leading the members of the Likud into precisely the same autistic corner from which his father extricated them. Together with Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau and the activists of the Yesha Council of settlements, Binyamin Ze'ev Begin is bringing about a situation in which the Likud will cease to be the people's party. He is bringing about a situation in which the Likud will go back to being the party of a closed, fanatical and dangerous sect.
The members of the Likud must not become confused: the Israeli public is fed up with the Gaza Strip. The Israeli public is fed up with the provocative, isolated and pointless settlements. The Israeli public wants a border, a fence and the feeling of home. It wants to confine the occupation and moderate the conflict. Accordingly, the attempt by Begin, Landau and other paragons of righteousness to impose Gush Katif - the Israeli bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip - on that public will end in a general revolt against the imposers. The Likud's attempt to block the act of disengagement by the party's leader will lead to sweeping public disengagement from the Likud itself.
The plan of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is not flawless. Nor is it devoid of risks. However, this plan expresses the deepest will of the Israeli nation. It represents the renewal of national hope. Rejection of the plan will immerse us all in rivers of blood. It will cover the horizon in a despairing pall of smoke. A vote against the plan will rive the nation, isolate the country and hurl Israeli society into an unprecedented freefall.
For all these reasons, May 2, 2004, is truly a fateful day. Fateful for the Sharon government, fateful for the Likud movement, fateful for the Jewish state. Accordingly, as Likud members set about their business this morning, they have to understand how heavy is the burden they bear. And they have to think not only about the settler public but about the broad Israeli public. They have to think about all of us: those on the left, those in the center, those in the sane right; about reserve soldiers, conscript soldiers, future victims of terrorist attacks. And when they arrive at the local Likud branch, the 193,190 party members have to know we are all watching them. We are watching them as they stand behind the curtain to cast their ballot. We are watching them as they place the ballot in the envelope.
If the members of the Likud decided today to turn their backs on us, we will not forget. If the members of the Likud decide to seal our fate for ill, we will not forgive. We will not forget and we will not forgive.
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