Early this week, the foreign minister and finance minister rushed to express opposition to any further withdrawals from the West Bank. The foreign minister announced to hundreds of cheering Likud activists that his party would not "under any circumstances" lend a hand to any further disengagement from parts of the Land of Israel, and the finance minister made clear that any further disengagement would be interpreted by the Palestinians as surrendering to terrorism. The voices belonged to Silvan Shalom and Benjamin Netanyahu; the hands belonged to Uzi Landau.
Now, with the disengagement plan appearing to be a fait accompli (unless the postponement until after Tisha B'Av turns out to be the first blink in the showdown with the settler opposition) ministers Netanyahu and Shalom are presenting identical positions to that of Landau and his clique. They are also shamelessly using the same reasoning - withdrawal from the territories signals weakness, the Likud must protect its heritage of remaining in all the lands of the homeland - but they are imposing it on the territories in the West Bank that will remain in Israeli hands after the evacuation, while Landau and his associates say that it should apply to all the territory Israel currently holds.
Upon hearing the statements made by Netanyahu and Shalom, it is impossible not to wonder if they learned anything from the last year. After all, the very factors that forced Sharon to initiate the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria are still in force, and they will come into play regarding Israel's attitude toward most of the territory of the West Bank.
Who more than the finance minister and foreign minister should know this: Netanyahu, who takes pride in the economic achievements of his policies, understands that the relative security calm has largely contributed to those successes, and the foreign minister, who is aware of the influence of the conciliatory profile Israel is showing the Palestinians on the improvement in Israel's diplomatic position?
There is an amusing contradiction between the "peace plan" Shalom presented last week to President Hosni Mubarak and the positions that he articulated a few days later to his supporters in the Likud: The Egyptian president will not buy proposals for limited Israeli withdrawals that are fundamentally meant to position the Likud as the party seeking to keep most of the occupied territories in Israel's hands.
Netanyahu's charlatan appearance at the news conference last week, in which he promised Israel would become one of the 10 richest countries in the world, also doesn't fit in with his view that says there should be no more withdrawals from the territories.
Of course it is possible to ignore the demagoguery of them both and to regard their statements as mere cynical speechifying, meant to improve their positions among the voters of the Likud Central Committee, to blur their support for the disengagement and to distract attention from the actualization of the plan. But Netanyahu and Shalom both have plans to lead the Likud, and therefore accounts must be settled with them over the meaning and validity of the positions they present.
Withdrawal from all of Gaza and some of Samaria was not done for altruistic motives. It was the result of a combination of grave national pressures: Sharon (apparently) internalized the insight that to protect the Zionist character of Israel, he had to remove the yoke of the occupation. The demographic data and the reality on the ground proved that it is impossible to maintain a Jewish majority in a democratic country under the conditions involved in controlling another people. He assumed that the disengagement from some of the territories would loosen that knot.
Sharon also realized that the occupation was making things very difficult for Israel in the international arena, and its relations with the U.S. in particular, and that it had a destructive influence on the internal morale, the Israel Defense Forces' resilience, and the economic situation. That will all be true after Tisha B'Av, as well.
Netanyahu and Shalom must provide answers: How do they resolve the contradiction between the declared beliefs of the Likud in democratic principles and the aversion to granting the Palestinians Israeli citizenship, and between the Likud's insistence on the Zionist idea and the certainty that continued rule in the territories will turn Israel into a binational state? Uzi Landau does not have answers to these questions, and neither does the foreign minister or the finance minister.
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