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The protest march against disengagement, which started up again last night in Sderot and is to end on Friday - no one knows how or where - got underway because of the Yesha Council of settlements' claim to the right to demonstrate and to free speech. The debate over the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been channeled in recent weeks to a discussion of the rules of the democratic game, with the demonstrators speaking in the name of the right to protest, and the government responding in the name of its obligation to follow through on its sanctioned decisions. This argument conceals the deeper reasons for the crisis gripping the country: the refusal of a minority of its citizens to give up even one dunam of conquered territory, as opposed the the conclusion of the majority that the time has come to begin doing so.

Make no mistake: Pushing the discussion to a procedural track - discussing the extent to which the decision-making process on disengagement was proper and discussing legitimate boundaries of challenging government and Knesset decisions - is indeed relevant to the circumstances. There were defects in the way Ariel Sharon moved from point to point, within his party and his cabinet, and in the way he obtained the necessary approval for his initiative. His ignoring of the results of the Likud members' referendum, and the dismissing of the National Union ministers to attain a majority in the cabinet for his plan, were jarring moves that smelled strongly of impropriety. In retrospect, Sharon is lying in the bed he made: It is a berth for the protest and provides a weapon for his opponents. On the other hand, the Yesha Council's openly declared decision to use violence by concentrating tens of thousands of people in the area to be evacuated to thwart the decisions of the cabinet and the Knesset, is a declaration of rebellion. It is right, therefore, to discuss the rules of the game being used by Israeli society to solve the serious crisis in which it finds itself, but important not to forget its essence - the relationship to the land.

After all, even if Sharon had acted according to the strictest procedural rule book there is, the anti-pullout forces would have risen up against him and done everything to torpedo it. The proof of this is the ideological soil from which the protest leadership sprang, as well as its individual make-up. The Yesha Council is a reincarnation of the leadership of Gush Emunim, whose credo was to hold on to every furrow of soil occupied in the Six-Day War. This group also opposed the withdrawal from Sinai, which the Begin government and the Knesset approved in 1979 by means of a procedure no one thought improper. The activists of those days who are still among us, Hanan Porat, Rabbi Haim Druckman and Elyakim Haetzni, are today among the anti-disengagement leadership, just as they spearheaded opposition to the conditions of the peace treaty with Egypt.

This group founded the Tehiya party, which damaged the Likud and took a bite out of the National Religious Party, and was at the extreme right of Israeli politics for 13 years, until 1993. It did not object on procedural grounds, but rather spoke in the name of loyalty to the Greater Land of Israel and refusal to give up even one inch of its soil. Even then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who worked to perpetuate the status quo with the Palestinians, was not kosher enough for this group, because of his willingness to participate in the Madrid Conference, and it decided to withdraw from his cabinet.

Porat, Druckman, Bentzi Lieberman, Pinhas Wallerstein and their friends, are taking advantage of the jarring nature of the formal process of the approval of disengagement (which was eventually lawfully concluded) to achieve their ideological goals: preventing any withdrawal. Their grasping onto reasons taken from the democratic lexicon cheapens it. They want to perpetuate a fundamentally undemocratic situation in the Gaza Strip. They aspire to hold onto a reality in which a negligible minority (the settlers) forces its will on the majority (the Palestinians). They accept an existence in which the Palestinians do not have equal rights. They raise the banner of racial discrimination - "a Jew does not expel another Jew" - but does abuse Arabs.