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In discussions that took place last week in the chambers of Minister Tzipi Livni, the acting justice minister, it became apparent that the state views the establishment of each settlement in the territories as an ad-hoc act that got carried out with the permission of the military commander in charge of the area. It follows that the mouth which permitted can also prohibit, and therefore those opposed to the evacuation from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria cannot argue that the evacuation compensation bill is unconstitutional: the state has the authority to instruct the Israel Defense Forces to declare the areas slated for evacuation as restricted areas and to operate in them according to the needs of the hour, as the government defines them.

When the state defines the settlement enterprise in the territories as a series of decisions each of which stands alone, it is proclaiming that they are vulnerable to change arising from altered considerations. New circumstances allow it to decide to dismantle them, just as they had allowed it to decide to establish them. The state's position essentially concedes outright that it lacks a guiding policy, a cohesive world view which sees in the settlement enterprise a component without which the its very foundation of existence couldn't be. The settlements, the state retroactively confirms, are a network of improvisations that indeed created a different reality in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than the one which existed there up to 1967, but they and Israel within the Green Line are not a single entity.

The reluctance of successive Israeli governments to put into precise words that state's relationship to the occupied territories has now suddenly come to the fore and underscores the abyss on which it is standing. Israel did not return the territories but also did not annex them. When a state chooses not to demarcate its geographic borders, its internal borders, which determine its identity and set the rules of the game used there, also remain dimly defined. The initiatives emanating in recent days from the settlers and their proponents to launch an organized refusal movement that would undermine the possibility of implementing the disengagement plan, on the one hand, and the budding signs of an opposite organization by parents who are encouraging their soldier children to refuse to serve in the territories, on the other hand, are clear-cut manifestations of Israeli society's wandering at a loss in a borderless fog.

As much as these expressions of refusal come across as a threat to internal cohesion, they are harmless, because they are not self-contained phenomena but are rather an authentic reflection of the pathology of Israeli reality over 37 years. The country is split between those who are utterly convinced that the occupation is the very venom endangering its existence and those who believe with all their heart that withdrawal from the territories is what will bring the state's destruction. On one side are those who maintain that control over the Palestinian people is what drives the state into dilemmas that are resolved in a manner that increasingly chips away at its foundations. Facing them are those who believe that the state's existence is dependent on its ability to keep holding on to the territories. At the basis of this conflict is the approach to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The right (at least its fanatic fringe) sees them as parts of the homeland and extends to them its attitude toward the Galilee and Negev, whereas the left (certainly its ideological hard core) sees them as territory belonging to another people. From the state's refraining to declare Judea, Samaria and Gaza parts of the homeland one can deduce its attitude toward them.

In the next three months, as dictated by the timetable set for implementing the disengagement plan, the phenomena reflective of the internal rift will escalate; it cannot be downplayed. The way to contend with the rift is not by restricting freedom of expression and not by maneuvering the law enforcement system against petitions, orange badges or halakhic rulings by rabbis. The correct arena for dealing with it is public discourse. The entire society should weigh in on where it is headed. Is it capable of choosing between the two fundamental conceptions that split it, and if so, which way.