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Last week, for the first time since Ehud Barak defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the contest for prime minister, the left wing was radiant with joy. At Monday's demonstration in Jerusalem in favor of the disengagement plan, activists of Peace Now and the Yahad party - successor to Meretz - spoke of the event as a "historic day."

But as the enthusiasm surged, many tended to forget that the left has an identity of its own and that it also has a moral role to play, not only a political one. It's not nice to be a party pooper, especially when there is so little cause to celebrate these days, and it's true that even a small step forward is better than digging in and doing nothing - the withdrawal shows there are no irreversible situations.

In Judea and Samaria, too, vast changes will occur, with Sharon or without him, because the will to life of Israeli society will ultimately overcome the madness of occupation. On the other hand, there is no point in hiding the truth. And the truth is that a withdrawal without an agreement with the Palestinians is no more than the tip of the iceberg of what Israel really needs.

The evacuation is not a goal in itself, and if the withdrawal from Gaza is not followed immediately by negotiations with the Palestinians, based on the Clinton formula, the evacuation that the Knesset approved last Tuesday will have no real effect on the situation.

In other words, Qassam rockets will continue to slam into the town of Sderot, suicide bombers will continue to attack Israeli targets and Israel's brutal punitive campaigns will continue even more intensively.

Thus, last week was not the political moment of truth. The moment of truth will arrive when Prime Minister Sharon reaches the junction at which he has to choose among three options - surrender to the rabbis of the National Religious Party and to Benjamin Netanyahu and his buddies, a coalition with the Labor Party supported by Yahad-Meretz or a split in the Likud and early elections at the head of a center-right bloc.

The third option is the fairest and most desirable one. Until new elections are held, Sharon, by the logic of the parliamentary system, can begin the preparations for withdrawal, but the potential split in the Likud changes the political situation.

It is impossible to ignore the fact that in the eyes of a large part of the Israeli public, the revolution underlying the parliamentary support for the Sharon government is not entirely legitimate. Most Israelis, like most people in general, are fair-minded.

They think that promises must be kept and that politicians, too, should be loyal to themselves - so a politician who changes his opinion dramatically, however justified the circumstances, must face the test of elections in one way or another.

If Sharon has decided to adopt the conception of the left, he must split the Likud, go to elections at the head of his supporters and prove that he is capable of defeating the far right. This, of course, relies on the assumption that the withdrawal from Gaza is not only a measure aimed at deepening our hold east of the Green Line.

If the aim is to sell Gaza in order to gain freedom of action in Judea and Samaria, Sharon does not deserve any support from the left beyond the necessary minimum. And that necessary minimum does not, under any circumstances, include an automatic "safety net" in the Knesset, not on security and not in economic policy.

Above all, the necessary minimum does not include support for the barbaric reprisal operations in the Gaza Strip, in which dozens of civilians, including children of 11, are killed. There is already a paralysis in the left. Since Sharon launched his new initiative, the left has disappeared as an independent force on the ground.

Not even the faintest protest was voiced when Sharon sent in the army to avenge the killing of the two children in Sderot by a Qassam rocket. Every possible red line was crossed, without the leaders of Peace Now, Labor or Yahad uttering so much as a peep.

Indeed, it often appears to be the case that the left is pleased with the existing situation - in Sharon it has found itself a leader whom it cannot easily remove from its ranks. Therefore the left forgives him everything, including the cynicism and the contempt for human life that have been his hallmark for the past 50 years.

Again we see how the left, in the name of pragmatism and in order "not to interfere with a historic move," has forsaken its role as guardian of universal values and of "purity of arms" - a term, referring to the use of arms only in self-defense, that is rapidly becoming a sad joke. It's not easy to admit this, but in the sands of Gaza the army is undergoing a total metamorphosis. What it is doing there has implications for the entire society, but we all prefer to look the other way.

However, from former defense minister Shimon Peres, former justice minister Yossi Beilin and their colleagues, who are supposed to represent us and speak in our name, we have the right to expect a little more public courage and moral sensitivity. Both of the former ministers and the members of their Knesset factions should use the Knesset platform to tell Sharon, Defense Minister Mofaz and Chief of Staff Ya'alon - you have gone too far.

The killing of the Palestinian girl outside the Girit base in Gaza is symptomatic of a fatal disease. Urgent surgery is needed to save the patient. If the pattern of behavior of the company commander whom the chief of staff is defending with all his might reflects the spirit that is blowing in the army, then the commander is not worthy to hold his position.

He is not worthy of the young soldiers who are placed in his charge or to be the successor of those who were soldiers in the past, long before him and under more difficult conditions. The fact that we need the army to carry out the evacuation cannot be allowed to paralyze our moral judgment and our faithfulness to the basic values of a society and of civilized people.