The left is celebrating. The Greater Land of Israel is done with, and by order of a prime minister from the right, and the support of most of the Likud ministers. Once again, like after the Oslo Accords, it appears that the occupation is ending; that the peace camp has won the historic debate with the nationalist camp; that the opponents of the settlement movement and of holding on to the territories were correct from the start; that the precedent has been set, and with one more little step, the settlers will be off the hilltops, out of the Jordan Valley and out of Hebron.
The result of the government decision on Sunday to evacuate Gaza and northern Samaria and fence off the settlement blocs of the West Bank meets the expectations of the left, whose own governments never dared to remove a single settler. But that doesn't turn Limor Livnat, Tzipi Livni, Silvan Shalom and Avraham Hirshson into card-carrying members of the Maarach, the Mapai-Mapam alignment so hated by the right. The Likud government under Ariel Sharon has adopted the campaign platform of Labor's Amram Mitzna - but not his ideology.
The ideological dispute between left and right over the borders of the state will continue after the Gaza withdrawal, which now seems more certain than ever, and Judea and Samaria will be at the center of that political debate on the day after the disengagement. The talk about a "big bang," in which the party map will be redrawn and the spectrum will be defined between those who support the arrangement and the withdrawal (Sharon leftward) and those who oppose it (Netanyahu rightward) is the wishful thinking of politicians who aren't the favorites of their party's central committee (Ehud Olmert and Haim Ramon), more than it is a practical plan.
The minute the disengagement is complete, and the Gaza settlers are in their new homes, the rough pasting that holds together the Sharon-Peres government, especially if the cease-fire holds, will erupt again over the question of which way to go from here: to a permanent agreement or an interim agreement; withdrawal to the line of the fence or remaining in Beit El and Ofra; united Jerusalem or divided Jerusalem. And let's not forget the Golan Heights, which Sharon has managed to hide behind the public debate. The battle for succession in Labor and the Likud will only fuel the ideological debate.
In the coming elections, and it does not matter who the candidates will be, the debate will be over the territories and borders and relations with the Arabs. Labor will call for a speedy agreement with Mahmoud Abbas, and the Likud will say it is ready for concessions, but more slowly and cautiously. When asked why he is in the Likud and not Labor, Shaul Mofaz said that the difference is in the order of the action: For us, he said, security comes before peace, and in the left, it's the other way around.
The Likud will find things more difficult after the disengagement because of the anticipated international pressure to get out of the West Bank. If Netanyahu manages to succeed Sharon, he will try to block any concessions with a demand for mutuality and democracy on the other side. And if Sharon runs for a third term, he'll play down the withdrawal - which is not popular in his own party - and emphasize the accomplishments: the victory over terror, the international support, the economic growth.
As for the next stage, Sharon will say that smaller steps should be taken, and not the "irresponsible rush" proposed by his rivals in Labor. But it really doesn't matter what Sharon says before the elections, as the disengagement proves. His message will be the same as that of his teacher/mentor, David Ben-Gurion, after the Suez campaign and withdrawal - "Say Yes to the Old Man."
History will judge the Israeli exodus from the territories and the determination of the borders as one move that began after the Yom Kippur War and is still not over yet. But even if the end result is already foreseen, the road ahead is still long, full of bumps and pain.
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