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Under cover of the disengagement the Labor Party folded, and it also looks very bad, and petty. Worse: Under cover of disengagement, the Education Ministry will continue doing what in any case the generals of the Labor Party do not oppose, and don't even know what to say against it; under cover of the disengagement, Benjamin Netanyahu will continue his economic policies, and Meretz-Yahad "won't let the radical right bring him down," and so forth and so on. Hasn't the time come to look at this format as the way our politicians survive?

There was a time when the distinction between left and right was somehow tied to their economic and social doctrines. The foundation of the dispute was not only about a weltenschaung, but representation of different sectors of the population. Even if it was not strictly along class lines as in Europe or Latin America during its moments of democracy, nonetheless the distinction included a form of connection between the world view and the constituency.

That political distinction between left and right in Israel was lost only after 1967. Did the territories swallow those political distinctions? Not necessarily. What did happen, along with all the domestic developments, was the turning of the territories into a political issue, around which the politicians managed to organize their disputes with greater success.

First they quarreled over "liberated territories" as opposed to "administered territories." The "occupied territories" only appeared in the lexicon of Rakah and Matzpen. The territories turned into a debate over "all the territories in exchange for peace" against "peace for peace." Only external events changed the political positions: the Yom Kippur War, American pressure, intifada, the fall in Lebanon. But gradually, with the integration of the territories in Israel, or more accurately, the deepening of the annexation, it was impossible for the political system, or for that matter, the military or economic system, to accept the position of "all the territories for peace."

Thus, the doves of Labor (where Yossi Sarid grew up) retreated to Meretz. But in the same way, with the deepening control over the territories, Meretz retreated toward positions that included formulations like "the large settlement blocs" and "territorial exchanges," a fake formula if ever there was one.

In short, the political, military and economic systems, in their entirety, accepted the settlement enterprise as a fact of life. Nonetheless, there was a need for something to argue about, because it is only through those arguments that one creates "the public represented by the politicians." Thus was born the new eye of the needle, at the end of the road, through which the entire Israeli ideological debate is now strung - disengagement.

Sharon does not deny that he intends to continue controlling the West Bank. All his talk about what's wrong about controlling another nation is shelved the minute the conversation turns to the West Bank, as if there is no nation there being controlled by another nation. Labor's people can speak emotionally about "bringing the boys home," as if "the boys will come home" from their guard duty around Gaza, as if the guarding will not be dependent on the army, on searching for tunnels, and on further engagements.

Meretz's people and the doves can talk all they want about dismantling settlements as part of a process, but none of them truly expects Sharon to dismantle the main settlements in the West Bank, the settlements that slice it into cantons. But, since the political system needs to invent subjects for debate to keep their constituencies going, there is no safer argument than the "departure from Gaza." Since 1967, Gaza has been a favorite subject for the opponents of annexation and a laboratory for "eradicating territory," a "a settlement enterprise of real agriculture," and mostly for extreme ghettoization, that the entire political system, including Meretz-Yahad, supported.

The entire "leftist" celebration over Sharon's retreat from "the dream of the Greater Land of Israel" has already taken place, in those same columns, same pages, sometimes the same writers, when Netanyahu gave up a little of Hebron to enable the settlers to expand their control over that unhappy town. Here, therefore, is the renewal of Israeli democracy: the "territories" are no longer a subject good enough to discuss, so the debate is narrowed down to Gaza, the eye of the needle. The problem is that it is impossible to shove through that needle's eye the thick rope of the political crisis of the occupation.