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It's hard not to be excited by the power of the attack of "statesmanship," "the spirit of democracy" and "the rule of law" that this week seized the most extremist spokesmen of the settlers and those favoring annexation. They, who until a day or two ago were still rejecting, with an arrogant messianic smile, all the complaints about illegal outposts, rebellion against the law, encouraging the disobeying of orders, calls to carry out war crimes and the State Comptroller's reports about corruption in budgeting the settlements. All that nonsense - the law, statesmanship, the rule of law, democracy - has been considered by them for a generation to be worthless, when compared to that same "profound, hidden meta-goal, in whose name we are creating all this," in the words of Effi Eitam, who until this week was the housing and construction minister; "a profound, hidden goal," whose secret is known only to him, to people like him, and to the rabbis of the National Religious Party.

No longer. At the beginning of the week, something important happened: Eitam, former tourism minister Benny Elon, and even some graduates of the "Jewish underground," suddenly saw the light regarding the rule of law and the spirit of democracy. Not only that, they even positioned themselves at the vanguard of statesmanship. And with that same long-familiar arrogance, and with the presumptuous, nouveau-riche agility of someone who has just discovered that he is speaking prose, they are already reprimanding others from the heights of the new trend: Where are the leftists, the bleeding hearts, when we need them? Where are those who favor the rule of law when a Jewish minister is about to be cruelly dismissed - by chance, a member of the extreme right, who is a frontal opponent of the prime minister's policy? Is that a way to suddenly pull his seat, his salary, his car out from under him?

Or as Emunah Elon, the wife of the evasive minister Benny Elon, asked this week on television, with that same fixed pitying smile that usually accompanies her concern for the situation of the Palestinian refugees: "Where's the left? Where are the guardians of the rule of law? How is it that Benny has been left alone to defend Israeli democracy?"

And while our hearts are still going out to the aforementioned "Benny," who stands alone in the battle for democracy - the last one on the ridge of Jerusalem's Hyatt Hotel, with only two sharpshooters alongside him - additional stones are catapulted onto our heads by the nouveau-democrats: "What would have happened if the situation had been reversed?" "Where would all those bleeding hearts have been, had Prime Minister Sharon decided in the same way on a strong momentum of settlement and annexation?"

It's true that Ariel Sharon's conduct has never been a model of elegant refinement and legalistic pedantry, and it's true the dismissal of the ministers was carried out with the same hair-raising insensitivity that is typical of all his behavior. But it requires an excess of hypocrisy and self-righteousness on the part of those who until now cheered that same behavior to call now for the help of those who have been trampled by it for a generation. Because the naive question, "What would have happened if the situation had been reversed?" etc., can be answered simply: "What do you mean `if'?" After all, the "reverse" happened a long time ago! It has been with us for decades! The settlement enterprise and the outposts and the annexation were carried out without asking the "bleeding hearts" and the "guardians of the law," and, in effect, without even asking the public.

Moreover: According to any democratic parameter - general elections, public referenda - the settlement and annexation movement was always defeated and crushed down to about two or three seats every time it presented itself as such to the public - unadorned, and undisguised. That is what moved the decent Benny Begin at the time to say frankly, upon his resignation, that he feels "like a public representative without a public."

But this petty matter - the absence of public, formal democratic support - never bothered our new democrats. On the contrary: The settlers, in their arrogance, drew mystical strength from it. Because according to their belief, they are the "representatives" of a far more important and significant public than the Israeli one: They are the self-appointed representatives of the transcendental "amyisrael" (the Jewish people), the living and the dead, the nation that is here, there and everywhere in the universe. On that plane they are always guaranteed a majority, and to hell with the Israeli voter, not to mention his ephemeral governments.

Only a fool will therefore be impressed by the heroic battle of Benny Elon and his ilk to preserve democracy; the fact is that "democracy" (like "statesmanship," like "settlement," like "the security reasons") interests them as much as the wall interests the lizard. For them it is just a temporary stepping stone, a backdrop on which they can camouflage themselves, on the way to "the profound, hidden goal."

This approach may perhaps contain the secret of the settlers' effective use of democracy, as opposed to the "left." The "left" treats democracy as the apple of its eye, as an end in itself, as though it were a luxury car that one has to take care of, to wax and polish, to upholster in plastic, even to use only sparingly, so that it won't get scratched, God forbid. Whereas for the settlers, "democracy" (like "the security reasons") is only another means of transportation from one point to the next: just a stolen, beat-up old wreck that one can jump into and drive a little, and then abandon on the side of the road, on the way to "the profound, hidden goal," which is known only to them and to their rabbis.