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Out of the blue, an ostensibly amazing fact became clear this week: In Israeli politics, there are no longer two approaches to resolving the country's No. 1 problem. There are no left-wing and right-wing theses that are battling for the heart of the street. The political option of the ruling coalition evaporated with the Likud referendum. The Israeli consumer will no longer be able to choose between concessions a la Sharon and maximal concessions of the left. The outcome of the referendum was not "the greatest strategic mistake in the country's history," as the prime minister thought. It was one of the greatest exposures of a mistaken conception concerning the country's future path. The revelation erupted abruptly, but for many there was nothing surprising about it.

The image of the acute confrontation that has turbulently accompanied politics for almost 30 years turned out to be an optical illusion. A majority in the party announced that the whole business of "painful concessions" is a nonstarter, a charade. This majority crumpled up and threw into the wastebasket the papers with which Ariel Sharon had thought to nourish domestic and foreign politics in the years ahead. The referendum stated sharply that the old confrontation, which reached its horrifying apogee with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, today posits the belief of the right in the lack of any sort of settlement as against a concrete solution whose supporters didn't know how to sell it.

The absurd thing about the confrontation was, of course, that the promise of "peace and security" won twice in the past three years, even though it emanated from those who didn't believe in it. It defeated a conflicting promise, which lacked a worthy leader (see under: Ehud Barak), which held that only comprehensive negotiations could produce an agreement. It also attracted doves who threw up their hands in despair in the face of the killing and the repulsive behavior of Yasser Arafat. The editor of a mass-circulation daily this week reiterated heatedly the claim that the left's promise of a comprehensive settlement bears a "religious-messianic" character. The editor of Maariv, Amnon Dankner, wrote in the media affairs periodical The Seventh Eye about the sour taste that accrues to the approach of "what is called the left here," which scorns the feelings of a large part of the society and for whom "patriotism is a dirty word."

This is a totally groundless statement that has nevertheless become a commonplace in the public discourse about the conflict and its solution. There is nothing messianic about a program that gets the support of 40 percent in the public opinion polls. That's the rating of the Geneva Initiative, for example, in surveys that are more comprehensive than those that appear in the newspapers. It has a majority in the top ranks of the European Union, and though Europe may be a vilified place, it is not especially messianic or religious. America would go for it, too, if it were not so protective of its Israeli friend.

An Israeli majority, which even in Maariv polls no longer believes Sharon, supports with very secular consistency principles whose details are not far from the Geneva blueprint. There are two things that this political direction lacks in the Israeli arena: a leadership to push it forward and effective mega-public relations of the kind that gave us the cordial granddad Sharon with the empty slogan of "peace and security" without giving anything in return.

On top of this there is, of course, the contention that there is no one to talk to on the other - murderous - side. Yet Yossi Beilin went on a successful international tour with his Geneva colleague, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former adviser to Arafat. The Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) had a lengthy conversation with them this week and expressed surprising support, which would not be possible without Arafat's agreement. A planned meeting between Abu Ala and Sharon somehow didn't happen. After the referendum flop, it would have looked ludicrous. There is also the beginning of an appeal to the street. The left-wing demonstration scheduled for next Saturday evening in Rabin Square will be a test. And let the scoffers laugh all they want - when Sharon meets for a PR opportunity with the well-muscled governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beilin and Abed Rabbo respond not only in the bureaus of leaders. Next week, Richard Gere will host a who's who of intellectuals and creative artists in New York and Los Angeles for meetings with the two.

All this is not yet enough to generate the needed revolution of consciousness. But the defeat of Sharon's minimal plan helped show that even if the concept of the comprehensive settlement is not yet winning, the refusal posture is bankrupt as an ideological alternative. Things are beginning to click into place on the street, as has been said in this space a few times recently. If signs of oil have been found in Kfar Sava, the messiah (contrary to the song) will finally phone, too.