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The Labor party resembles a student in a driving course who has memorized all the answers for the written exam, but doesn't dare take the car for the actual driving test. Labor knows it has to come up with an alternative plan to Likud's, but while Labor has drafted its platform, it keeps finding excuses not to test it. There's the problem that Yasser Arafat is not a partner, or that international circumstances are not conducive, the terror attacks prevent any diplomatic action, or the prime minister's policies get in the way.

In fact, the Labor party's situation perfectly suits those who want to perpetuate the current situation. When bullets are fired and bombs explode, the party justifies its continued presence in the government by pointing to the necessity of preserving national unity at a time of war. Whenever there is a lull in the fighting, the party claims that diplomatic moves have to be given a chance. In this way, the Labor party fulfills its genuine plan: non-separation from the government.

Shortly before the Shavuot holiday, Labor unveiled its policy platform. Its ideological merit should not be belittled: In principle, Labor presented a clear alternative to Likud's approach. A day after the Likud central membership formally adopted a position rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state, Labor's main members endorsed the antithesis: Labor's aim is to separate from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to live peacefully alongside a Palestinian state. As opposed to the vision inherent in Likud's plan - continued Israeli possession of the territories and continued comingling of the two peoples - Labor upholds a different strategy of pulling back to the Green Line borders, establishing a buffer between the two peoples, and even conceding sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

The circumstances which produced Labor's revised position - namely, Haim Ramon's challenge to Benjamin Ben-Eliezer's leadership - can be ignored. Also, it would be wrong to dwell on differences in the approaches adopted by heads of the party. Shimon Peres has abandoned the assumption that Arafat is the only possible partner with whom an agreement can be forged (today, Israel's foreign minister supports talks with Arafat's associates and with moderate Arab states), Ramon has called for unilateral separation, and Ben-Eliezer - with whom Avraham Burg has become miraculously allied - has purported to devise a comprehensive diplomatic plan which distinguishes between security separation and political separation.

Such ideological differences appear to be insignificant nuances of little import when they are compared to the broad policy message upheld by Labor's central membership: Labor has expressed willingness to withdraw from the territories, evacuate settlements, and launch a diplomatic initiative aimed at resolving the dispute with the Palestinians along the lines of the Clinton outline.

The weak spot in Labor's plan has to do with its credibility. Privately, Labor's leaders say the vision of settlement evacuation is an illusion. When they are asked to relate to this subject in private talks, they allude to the negative example displayed by Yitzhak Rabin: At the last minute, Rabin chose not to evacuate the Jewish enclave in Hebron after the massacre of Muslim worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs, perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein on February 25, 1994. The prevailing wisdom among Labor leaders, both before the massacre and after it, was that no Israeli government could disband settlements and bring 200,000 Jews back within Green Line areas. The collapse of Ehud Barak's government, which brought up the far-ranging proposal to evacuate some settlements and concentrate the settlers in blocs, reinforced Labor leaders' view that support for settlement concessions can not be obtained in Israel's political framework.

The lack of honesty in the Labor leaders' newly-discussed approach is particularly evident in the party's behavior. Labor continues to serve as Likud's main partner in the government and to support policies enacted by Ariel Sharon, whose genuine purpose is to perpetuate Israel's hold in the territories.