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A few days ago, between one terror attack and the next, two leftist activists sat in a small cafe in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market with some stall owners who are enthusiastic supporters of the Likud. The leftists said that the time had come to get out of the territories and the market stall owners listened. What is this separation you're talking about, inquired one of them. Explain how this will work. There was not a trace of the familiar fighting spirit and revilement. Both sides felt, so it seemed, sadder and less arrogant.

One thing was clear: None of the speakers, even those who said "there should be separation but first we have to sock it to Arafat," thought that it was necessary to remain in the Jewish settlements in the territories. Indeed, a survey by Dr. Mina Zemach for Yedioth Tikshoret found that the percentage prepared to give up the settlements is higher than ever: 66 percent support the evacuation of all the settlements in the Gaza Strip, 70 percent support evacuation from areas that are densely populated by Arabs and 52 percent believe that the settlements constitute an obstacle to the resolution of the conflict in the Middle East.

The weak left - most of which is in a state of confusion between the legitimate feelings of rage and mourning and the need (which is now more urgent than ever) to clarify its political and social stance - is convinced that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government represent the spirit of the people. Terror attacks like these would not go by unanswered with any prime minister, say people from the left, and they see this as evidence of broad support. They are very much mistaken. Zemach's survey also indicates that 68 percent of the respondents think that Sharon has no plan, and 60 percent believe that the terrible economic situation will continue for quite a while. That is, there is little confidence in the government.

The left is also mistaken when it interprets these figures as a call for a leadership that is further to the right. Both the giving up of the settlements and the concern about the economic situation can be translated into Yitzhak Rabin's election platform from 1992. Then, Rabin spoke about a new civil agenda - less for the settlements and more for the depressed neighborhoods, less for the bypass roads in the territories and more for education. Perhaps now, or after a few more months of fruitless fighting in densely populated areas, more Israelis will give more expression to their alienation from the settlements and the occupation.

However, the left, in the framework of the existing political parties or in a new political organization, cannot deceive any longer. Not in a stupid "security-minded" competition with the right, and not in circumlocutions that promise peace and prosperity but are obsequious toward the settlers, as former prime minister Ehud Barak did. Furthermore, the political messages that the left has been preaching for years are now gaining acceptance because of the deep mud into which Israel is sunk, and more easily than ever, but this is no cause for rejoicing. The despair is also complex, and it must be treated with respect.

The fear and perplexity in the streets of Tel Aviv, like the profound sorrow in Haifa (which has suddenly cast light on the astonishing joint civic life of Jews and Arabs, which is continuing despite the insanity that has been going on ever since October, 2000), do not testify to simple despair. On the contrary: The wilder the killings, the more the more there is a new sense of solidarity, closeness and most surprising of all - a renewed sense of connection to the place. Though many people are talking about leaving the country, many more are feeling that now especially no one will budge them from here. Nevertheless, this solidarity lacks a sense of justice and an aim.

According to Zemach's survey, 74 percent of the respondents believe in the country's fundamental strength. It must be recalled that these are the same respondents who believed that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. Thus, because the right (with the settlers at its head) has in recent years dragged Israel into the Diaspora mentality of believing that the Jews are fated to be persecuted everywhere, and all they have to offer is blood and might and revenge (with no distinction between the settlement of Kedumim and the development town of Sderot or between the persecuted community here and that in Lyon or Toulouse) - then the left can define an aim and implant a new hope: Israel will take its fate back into its own hands, decide what its defensible borders are (with or without an agreement; hence, it is not Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat who will dictate to the Israelis their fate, but rather they themselves) and will determine for itself its social and economic agenda.

The right (and Sharon at its head) has caused Israel to retreat back to the day after the War of Independence. In its desire to blur the borders it is creating, in effect, a poor and torn binational state that will live forever by the sword and eradicate Zionist sovereignty.

The left can now invite the Israelis to come back home. It was the Labor movement, and not the right or the Jewish settlers in the territories, that wrote in a lullaby: "There is no deep plowing without weapons." This plowing, like the song, is certain of its justice. It does not only fight. With the same plow it also delineated the border, out of a desire for normality and the continuity of life.