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"We have nothing to fear but fear itself." This maxim coined by U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the beginning of World War II, sums up the essence of smart, courageous leadership. Not only does it speak to the people, who are expected to make a personal sacrifice, but to the leaders themselves, whose job it is to make tough decisions without going wobbly in the knees. These decisions are supposed to steer us fearlessly in the right direction and impart a sense that the troubles of today will eventually give way to a happy end.

Around here, sad to say, both the leaders and the led are waging a mutual intimidation campaign in the battle for disengagement from Gaza. Fanatic settlers and Greater Israel activists - a tiny minority - are challenging the authority of the government. They are threatening to rebel and respond violently to any attempt by Israeli soldiers and policemen to implement the government decision to remove them. They are recruiting rabbis to issue orders straight from God against leaving the bloody hellhole called Gaza.

They are not bothered by the fact that Israel is equated in the public mind with South Africa in its darkest days, and that horrifying pictures of the carnage and chaos we are wreaking in Gaza are showing up everywhere. They don't give a fig that people are back to moaning and sighing about "what's going to be." On the contrary: They know that their best ammunition is scare the living daylights out of Israeli citizens who are anxious to put an end to occupation and all that goes with it.

And if that weren't bad enough, the settlers are not the only ones who are scaring us. Our leaders also talk about how the country is heading for destruction. When Sharon, determined to implement the disengagement plan, wants to be convincing, he warns that those who say no to serving in the territories will destroy the state. The majority of Israels support his initiative, right? So why the scare tactics? When he invites Zambish and friends - a measly minority - to sit down and talk, he also radiates fear.

The prime ministers Sharon grew up on always sowed optimism and hope. They didn't scare the daylights out of people. After sinking the Altalena, Ben-Gurion, who disbanded the Etzel and the Palmach in order to establish a proper national army rather than a bunch of militias, didn't convene talks. He didn't sow fear. He made a decision and went ahead with it. When he proposed that Israel accept reparations money from Germany, the Herut party headed by Menachem Begin stormed the Knesset and openly rebelled. B-G didn't say that the country would go to the dogs. He didn't negotiate with Herut. He made up his mind and did it.

Levi Eshkol, in the "waiting period" that preceded the Six-Day War, hemmed and hawed, but he never scared the wits out of people. He never said that Israel might not survive. In the end, he did what he had to do. Begin did not seek his party's permission before setting the precedent of returning to pre-1967 borders and giving up the settlements in Sinai. There was no referendum. There was only a government decision. Yitzhak Shamir went to the Madrid peace talks that paved the first step for dialogue with the Palestinians despite being hobbled by his party. Sharon must act in the spirit of these leaders of old, who made tough decisions and not only acted on them fearlessly, but without inspiring fear in others.

Everyone knows that the idea of holding a national referendum is an attempt to blow Sharon's initiative to smithereens. The intention is to buy time. No matter how you look at it, there is no way that a referendum will be held in Israel. Back in the days of Barak, the idea was seriously considered when peace with Syria was on the table, but the experts realized it would never work. In any case, the religious camp would shoot down a referendum before it ever got off the ground: Today a referendum on the territories, tomorrow a referendum on civil marriage and drafting yeshiva students.

Altogether, what good would a referendum on Gaza do when we know that even with a majority in favor of withdrawal, 60 rabbis will issue an edict against carrying it out and a violent minority will threaten bloodshed?

Decisions must be made in the Knesset - not in brokered talks with a handful of violent fanatics who are calling upon soldiers to disobey orders and terrorizing the majority of Israelis who are in favor of withdrawal. Intimidation campaigns and referendums are out. What is at stake now, and has been for a long time, is not the dream of a greater Israel but the dream of a democratic Israel.