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Over the past two decades, Israeli politics has become exceedingly militant in nature. It adopted its two most crucial decisions - the settlement enterprise and the Oslo enterprise - without consensus and without observing the rules of fair play. Given the appropriate opportunity, both right and left chose to sidestep the worldview of their rivals, more or less committing an act of political rape. Neither right nor left hesitated to force themselves on the Israeli public agenda, in the belief that eventually it would reconcile itself to the decision, that in the end it would have to say that that is what it really wants.

The original sin was of the right. The establishment of over 100 settlements in the early 1980s was carried out by law and by government decision, to be sure, but it was in fact an act of coercion. The settlements were not forced only on the Palestinians; they were also forced on the Israelis. Gush Emunim, Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin committed the act of settlement with the explicit intention of denying future Israeli citizens the right of choice. The 1980s-era right created irreversible facts on the ground because it was determined to deny the Israelis of the third millennium the right to shape the boundaries of their sovereign state as they wished.

The left of the 1990s acted in similar fashion. Bringing the Arafat horse into the gates of the Israeli Troy was no accident. Although the good Israelis who armed the Palestinian revolution with assault rifles never imagined that these rifles would someday be turned against them, they well understood that armed Palestinian militias in the West Bank and Gaza would determine the fate of the territories. They well understood that bringing Yasser Arafat to Ramallah would force the hand of the right and bring an end to the internal debate in Israel over the future of the country. Just as the right did in the 1980s, so did the left of the 1990s: It established irreversible facts on the ground that were meant to force a certain future on Israel.

Political rape has in the past 20 years become the pattern that shapes public life in Israel. During this period, right and left have gotten tangled up in a pathological relationship of mutual rape. Instead of agreeing on a worthy democratic form that would enable the making of existential decisions through a conscious, transparent and fair process, Israel has deteriorated to the point where every ideological camp takes illegitimate steps to force its will on the other camp. The right forces bypass roads on the left, the left forces international documents on the right. The right imposes illegal outposts on the left, the left imposes coercive agreements on the right.

The current attempt of the Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Council to prevent the evacuation of the outposts elevates this pattern to the absurd, because unlike in the past, the settlers no longer have an alibi. They cannot hide behind a smokescreen that blurs the seriousness of their actions. In the summer of 2003, it is abundantly clear that on the matter of the outposts, the firebrands are clashing head on with 70 to 80 percent of Israeli citizens. In the summer of 2003, it is abundantly clear that the zealots have become a minute and isolated minority that no longer enjoys public backing. Therefore, when the settlers put up more and more virtual outposts on the hilltops to replace those the Israel Defense Forces have just evacuated, they are not only acting against the law. They are making intentional and conscious use of power in order to lead Israel to a place it has chosen not to go. They are trying to force their will on a democratic society that has already given them an explicit no.

The struggle now underway on the hilltops of Judea and Samaria, then, is a clear-cut struggle between Israeli national interests and a minority that is rebelling against the regime. Between the state of organized law and a dissolute band of lawbreakers. Thus hanging in the balance is not only the issue of the endurance of one or the other lunatic-fringe outpost, but the future of Israel as a sovereign state capable of actualizing the desires and choices of its citizens.

The 20 years of abuse it has suffered have made Israeli democracy into a doormat. They have made Israel a feeble country that is characterized by weakness of will on the part of the majority, weakness of the regime that represents the majority and weakness of the law enforcement system. Given this situation, the zealots - on either side of the political divide - have a decent chance of succeeding. They have a chance to wrest control of the national steering wheel and to do with the nation as they wish.

Still, the Yesha folks have to know that even if they win the battle for the hilltops, it would be a Pyrrhic victory. Again, for the thousandth time, they will settle the hilltops but will lose the battle for hearts and minds. Again, for the thousandth time, they will provoke in Israeli citizens feelings of revulsion. The Israeli public, which does not presently have enough power to resist the indecent act the settlers are committing against it, will not forget and will not forgive. And when the day comes, when the bulldozers do move on Ofra and Dolev and Tekoa, the Israeli public will stand by and watch. It will not have understanding or sympathy for those that trampled upon it. It will show no compassion toward those who knowingly denied its own sovereignty.