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The answer is so pat and self-understood that the question is no longer asked. "The settlement blocs are vital to Israel, and Jerusalem will be united for eternity," the state's leaders proclaim, and nobody even asks why anymore. What's so vital about Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim and Efrat and Kiryat Arba, that it's worth getting killed for them? That question is important to every Israeli because in the coming years the battle over annexation of the blocs and East Jerusalem will be at the center of the conflict with the Arabs.

Israel will be threatened with boycotts and international isolation, and many will pay with their lives if the war with the Palestinians resumes. It is important, therefore, that every Israeli citizen demand explanations from the country's leaders and understand where they are headed before electing them.

As the elections loom closer, the candidates tighten their embrace around the settlement blocs. Ariel Sharon justifies this as ensuring topographical control of the coastal plain and outskirts of Jerusalem and the ground water aquifer in Samaria. Benjamin Netanyahu also wants the Jordan Valley and southern Hebron Hills, "which are void of Palestinians," and Shaul Mofaz doesn't get why Ariel is considered a settlement. After all, it's part of Israel. Even Ehud Barak, who wants to lead the left, brags that he would fence in all the settlement blocs "with American funding" (Barak? The man who discussed handing over the Temple Mount? Would anybody buy anything less from him?).

It might have been possible to think they're right, if those same stories hadn't been heard before. About Sharm el-Sheikh and the Suez Canal and Yamit, about the territories taken from Jordan in the Arava, and the security zone in Lebanon, and the Nablus casbah, and of course about Netzarim and Kfar Darom. All of these the leaders of Israel had declared to be vital; that without them security is lost. Thousands of Israelis and Arabs paid with their lives in the futile attempts to hang on to those places. And each time it became clear once again that the struggle had been hopeless, that the flag was really a scarecrow. That at crunch-time Israel gave in up to the last millimeter of the armistice line. Both in the agreements it signed and in the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

The Green Line is not sacred. It is a border made up entirely of a historic patchwork collection. Its force stems from it being the only dividing line of the Land of Israel recognized by international agreements. And reality teaches us that international recognition is stronger than "facts on the ground." Each Israeli withdrawal was justified as ensuring control of the next hill: Sinai for Judea and Samaria by Menachem Begin; Lebanon for the Golan Heights by Barak; Gush Katif for Ma'aleh Adumim, "which is connected contiguously to Israel," by Sharon. These territories are still in Israel's hands, but the Palestinians have not given up a single inch of them, not even after supposedly losing the intifada. The Golan, too, will be back on the negotiations table post-Assad.

The so-called vitalness of the settlement blocs derives from the fact that apparently no government will manage to evacuate cities such as Ma'aleh Adumim, Ariel and Beitar Illit, and the Palestinians also grasp that and that's why they agreed to territorial exchange. The problem is that Israel has a much bigger appetite for blocs and is stingy about handing over substitute territories.

As for Jerusalem, Sharon knows that annexing 200,000 Arabs within the separation fence is political and demographic folly, and he doesn't have the guts to say that to his friends in the Likud and to the public. It's more pleasant for him to hear cheering for his declarations that "there won't be any compromise on Jerusalem."

There's no need to rush to the Green Line. One can and should demand a suitable security and political return from the Palestinians and the Syrians. But a courageous leadership would prepare the public for the inevitable withdrawal, come up with creative solutions for border amendments and territorial exchange and enlist international support for them, instead of deluding the public with empty promises that will only cause more killing and sorrow.