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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish settlements out of the Gaza Strip is, fundamentally, only a prelude to the inevitable: Due to various considerations, both internal and external, Sharon has decided to do, now, without an agreement, what has been incumbent on all the governments of Israel to do - and what former prime minister Ehud Barak proposed at Camp David - in the end, when there is an agreement.

The opposition that Sharon's proposal has stirred up is threatening Israel with a civil war. This too is just a prelude to the inevitable: In the Middle East, both among the Israelis and among the Palestinians, anyone who wants peace must prepare for a civil war. This, as Sharon said in a different context, will be the most justified of all Israel's wars. It is not a Charles de Gaulle for whom Israel is waiting, but rather for an Abraham Lincoln, a leader who will know how to make it clear that the subject of the controversy is not some strip of land or other, but rather the authority to decide.

There can only be one such authority: the government, which is subordinate to the Knesset that is elected by the votes of the citizens - and all of these are subordinate to the law, of which the Supreme Court is the arbiter. Not rabbis, not heads of political parties, not cult Messiahs; there is no partial or shared authority, there are not two commanders for one soldier. A state that is not separate from religion, and that does not excise religion from the army, is a two-headed monster.

"Civil war" is not the only definition that is applicable to a crisis situation of the sort into which Israel is tumbling, when a fanatical minority threatens to act violently to thwart the legal intentions of the majority. It is also correct to speak of revolution - an uprising against the tyranny of the ruler, and in Israel it is the Jewish settlers in the territories who rule.

Many countries have had to go through revolutions in order to embark on a new path. The American Revolution was a war of liberation from British rule, but 85 years later the Americans also had a Civil War when President Lincoln preferred a clash until the issue was decided over submission to the dictates of the enslaving South. The Russian Revolution, the French Revolution, the Chinese Revolution and even the Cuban and Iranian Revolutions - all toppled an old, corrupt regime and changed their countries.

The time has come for the Israeli Revolution. The Jewish settlers in the territories are struggling to maintain that old order that took firm root in the days of Yigal Allon and Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and Yisrael Galili, and which flourished under the auspices of Ariel Sharon in the days of Menachem Begin's government. This order determines that the territories take priority over Israel and that the Jewish settlers are above everything else. The settlers' collaborators since the Yom Kippur War have been the heads of the Israel Defense Forces - chiefs of staff, GOCs, division commanders - who have always helped exacerbate the problems that afterward they found hard to solve.

Officers who have served in the West Bank still remember, from the beginning of the previous decade, a new and naive brigadier general, a new division commander, rushing into the arms of the Jewish settlers and falling in love with them as though they were none other than a new incarnation of the kibbutzniks who made the desert bloom, pioneers in the movement from the city to the countryside. His name: Moshe (Bogey) Ya'alon, who is now the chief of staff. He and his colleagues, the military sovereigns in the territories, did little there to enforce the law on Israelis. They, no less than the politicians, created the golem that has risen up against them.

The silence of the IDF in face of the inequality, in its policy regarding conscription of the ultra-Orthodox as opposed to the secular and in its fawning on the rabbis is now taking its revenge on the army. Typical of this is the way Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz disgraced himself in that discussion of operations and incursions, maps and communications procedures and flanking maneuvers from the right and the left with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Going to the leader of Shas constituted recognition of his status, no matter what rabbinical ruling he hands down, and whoever hoped that he would say yes is not entitled to complain about the validity of his no.

The struggle over Sharon's plan is far more fateful than the political future of the man who proposed it and who has stained it with his moral flaws which, were it not for the attorney general, would have put him in the dock in court. The battle is for the control of the country. The war has been postponed until now because of the settlers' deterrent advantage, but now the crucial phase is near. If the Jewish settlers in the territories win the civil war, if they crush the revolution, the Israelis will become their abased slaves, their mercenaries in a never-ending war.