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Anybody with any sense understands that an agreement is preferable to any other arrangement that is essentially unilateral. In an agreement, both sides commit themselves willingly, while unilateralism has an element of lording over the other side and even whimsy - this is what one side wants and that's what will be - period or exclamation mark. The questions, therefore, are, is it possible under the given or anticipated circumstances to achieve an agreement? Will it actually be implemented once achieved? And will it be preserved over time? Those are the questions and there are no others.

Now, about a week before the elections in the territories, if they take place, and about two months before the elections in Israel, I am hurrying to provide answers. Because the last time I dithered I was late and missed it; Meretz paid dearly for that delay and with it the entire Israeli left.

In the past I was wrong in not criticizing Yasser Arafat on time. Arafat was never a personal friend, and I never left a meeting with him declaring I had found a friend, as Benjamin Netanyahu did in his day as prime minister. For a while, Arafat seemed a reasonable partner - when he was the first Palestinian leader to recognize the State of Israel and agree to a partition of the country. Eventually, he began to delude and deceive the entire world, and at a certain point it became clear that we would not get very far with him. Or even close. That was the time to disassociate from him.

So, why didn't we? Because we always hoped he would mend his ways and get back on the righteous path. He was an elected president, elected by the Palestinian people, and the free and sovereign choice of another nation, a neighbor. How would Israel respond had the Palestinians ruled out Ariel Sharon as a partner? And they certainly had good reason to do so.

Between the trickery of Arafat and Sharon, the intifada broke out, the terror struck, buses and cafes were blown up. Here and over there people were killed, and the Israeli left was stuck with Arafat as if it was his guarantors. It was impossible to swallow the "chairman" but we also did not throw him up. He remained in office until he died. Politically, we died before him.

In Arafat's day there was an argument: does he want to make progress and can't, or can he make progress but does not want to. As for his successor, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), there's no dispute; he certainly wants and he certainly can't. The anarchy in the Palestinian Authority is absolute, brother against brother, and the chairman's own party, Fatah, is torn.

The latest polls show an anticipated tie between Fatah and Hamas. There's no choice but to take into account a Hamas victory, or near victory. Hamas partnership in the next Palestinian government is certain, even though certainty in this part of the world is limited. Will Hamas deign to sit at the negotiating table and speak with Israel? Will Israel deign to sit with representatives of Hamas, which has still not recognized its existence? In any case, both sides are facing a relatively long, and apparently painful, period of adapting.

Must Israel, faithful to its interest, accept a lengthy waiting period, which could last years? Is there really an agreement on the threshold, just waiting for the door to be opened to it? Will the Israeli left once again get stuck with a correct and principled position that is clearly unrealistic? Israel does not have time to wait for the messiah. In the meantime, it continues to rot in its occupation and it won't have the strength to recover from all its ailments.

Theoretically, an agreement is preferable; in effect, a unilateral withdrawal is preferable. Of course one can meet with Abu Mazen, and it is even recommended, over and over, to meet and talk. It is also recommended to free Marwan Barghouti, the strongest among all the weak. But those who want the best for Israel and its people should prepare now for a departure from 90 percent of the West Bank; the remaining 10 percent await their fate until it's possible to reach an agreement, implement it and preserve it.

I propose that the Israeli left pay attention to the latest position of the nationalist right. They - Netanyahu and company - have discovered in the past year the magic of an agreement - but only of an agreement. For an agreement, they are even ready to leave Gaza. Maybe the right understands what the left still finds difficult to grasp: that an agreement is far off and impractical, and meanwhile, more settlements can be established and expanded, illegal outposts can be legitimized and maintained, the fences and walls can be raised even higher, checkpoints can proliferate and be fortified, Jerusalem can be connected while the West Bank is cantonized and cantonized, Hebron can be Judaicized with ethnic cleansing and the crops of Palestinian villages can be cut down in winter.