Ever since Ariel Sharon went up on the Temple Mount on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 2000, the Hebrew years have been a suitable measure for examining the current chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The year 5761 (2000-2001) was the year of shock. The year 5762 (2001-2002) was the year of stabilization; 5763 (2003-2004) was the year of Israel's military victory. And the year that is now ending, 5765, was apparently the year of disengagement.
The disengagement was announced back in the middle of the previous year, 5764 (2002-2003). It had become a government decision by June, 2004. But it was only during the past Hebrew year that the disengagement changed from an abstract idea into an operative plan. And from an operative plan into a plan with political validity. And from a plan with political validity to a plan with legal validity. And from a plan with legal validity to an implemented plan. To a fact on the ground. To a new historical reality.
During the course of the four years that preceded 5765 the implications of the great terror war that had broken out on Rosh Hashanah, 2000, became clear. This war was an attack on Israel as a Jewish state and on Israel as a free society. At the ideological level it derived from the Palestinian leadership's inability to end the conflict and recognize the right of a Jewish state to exist within amended 1967 borders. At the practical level, it was an attempt to undermine Israel as a democratic society. To blow up buses, cafes and night clubs in order to undermine the foundations of what Israel had created. To fight the Jewish state by means of interfering with its Western way of life. Not to allow this instinctive democracy and this consumer society to realize its California dream, detached from the occupation and the conflict.
During the course of those four years, Israelis understood the Palestinian message very well. They internalized it. They understood that the conflict did not hinge upon the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but rather upon the very right of a Jewish-democratic state to exist in an Arab-Muslim expanse. They understood that the conflict does not hinge upon Jerusalem but rather upon the very existence of a free, non-Arab society in the Middle East. They understood that that the conflict hinges upon Israel's right to exist as a Jewish-democratic state.
Around this basic understanding, a new and silent Israeli majority has been forming since Rosh Hashanah, 2000. This majority understands that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going to end in the foreseeable future. However, this majority also understands that the occupation endangers Israel morally, demographically and in the eyes of the world. The Israeli majority knows that on the one hand, they must end the occupation in order to ensure the existence of a Jewish-democratic Israel, but on the other, it also knows that ending the occupation in circumstances of continued conflict is problematic. It is liable to stir huge waves of violence that will shake Israel and endanger it. Therefore, the Israeli majority is expecting that its national leadership will act to end the occupation gradually, cautiously and without burdening Israel with existential dangers.
The year 5765 has been the year of the new Israeli majority. This majority has no party as yet. It is not yet represented in the Knesset. But this majority is very determined. It realizes that especially in the absence of peace, Israel is in need of a border. It realizes that precisely because the conflict is liable to continue for a long time Israel needs partition. It realizes that only the stretching of a line that separates Israeli space from Palestinian space will liberate Israel from the colonialist syndrome and liberate the Palestinians from the victim syndrome. It realizes that only the creation of a separation between the two peoples will end the symbiotic-pathological relationship between them and lead them toward true mutual recognition.
During the past Hebrew year, quiet pressure by the new Israeli majority led Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to erect the separation fence and adopt the disengagement plan. And indeed, during the course of 5765, the new Israeli majority became a solid political fact. It was this new majority that enabled Sharon to survive, to transform the disengagement plan into a political fact. It was this new majority that enabled Sharon to get through the Likud Central Committee. Thus, during the course of this year, the new Israeli majority and Prime Minister Sharon became allies. Sharon's unique personality on the one hand and the quiet determination of the Israeli majority on the other are what shaped the outgoing Hebrew year. They are the ones who have survived. They are the ones who have come out on top. They are the ones who have become the most important agents of change in the Middle Eastern arena.
One day that changed everything However, this past year was also shaped by another agent of change: Yasser Arafat. It is definitely possible to see the day of the chairman's burial, November 12, 2004, as the day the Four-Year War ended. The day of Arafat's burial can also be seen as the day that enabled Israel to carry out the disengagement plan successfully. This is because for 30 years Arafat had led the Palestinian revolution with astonishing success. However, for 10 years he failed entirely as the founder of the Palestinian state. Thus, after the failure of his attempt to bring about Israel's collapse by means of terror, his burial in Ramallah marked the beginning of a new Palestinian process that is putting the pragmatic Palestinian majority to a supreme test. Is it too, like the new Israeli majority, capable of forcing its will on the fanatical minority? Is it too, like the new Israeli majority, capable of finding a leader that will bring about the political embodiment of its desire for partition, stability and a two-state reality?
The long-term results of the new Palestinian process are not yet clear. The strengthening of Hamas is cause for concern; the practicality of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is encouraging. The incitement continues, but the behavior toward terror is moderating it. At any moment this fragile pragmatic structure is liable to collapse, but at present it promises quiet. A surface quiet, a temporary quiet, a quiet without which the disengagement could not have been implemented.
Thus, looking back, it is clear now that it was the span of one day that shaped all of 5765. On October 26, 2004, in Jerusalem, a little after 8 P.M., the Knesset approved the disengagement plan by a majority of 67 to 45. Twenty-four hours later, in Ramallah, Yasser Arafat's bodily systems collapsed. Had Arafat collapsed two days earlier, the results of the vote in the Knesset would have been different. Had he not collapsed at all, the results of disengagement process would have been entirely different. A coincidence that was seemingly produced by a hidden hand led to the fact that, at one and the same time, Israelis gathered their courage to try to remove the curse of the occupation and the Palestinians were freed from the sorcery of a destructive father of the nation. The Israelis decided at long last to deal with their national pathology only one day before the Palestinians faced the possibility of dealing like adults with their own national pathology.
The following 10 months of this past year took advantage of the amazing window of opportunity that had opened at the end of October. They led, at the end of a long process of ripening, to the disappearance of Gush Katif within 48 hours at the end of August. Without real violence, Gush Katif vanished. Without a civil war, without bloodshed. This proved just how profound the alliance is between the new Israeli majority and the leader who expresses it. It proved how solid and promising this alliance is. But it also proved that when Israel dictates an agenda of partition in a unilateral way, it finds a hidden Palestinian partner. A mature and fascinating Palestinian partner who helps to carry out the implementation of the partition - not by virtue of a signed agreement, but out of a tacit understanding. This is a stunning conclusion. It changes from the very foundations the world picture in which we lived for a generation. It replaces the contradictory and anachronistic mental paradigms of the right and the left with a third, new paradigm. And it defines a new strategic path for both Israelis and Palestinians. A path that will ensure gradual but almost certain movement in the direction of partitioning the land.
Year of engagement The year 5765 was the year of partitioning the land. Most of the process is still ahead of us. It will be long and tortured. It will have ups and downs, Qassams and terror attacks. However, the past Hebrew year was the year in which the lot was cast. The past Hebrew year set the precedent, defined the principle and established the target. In this sense it really was a historic year. Not only the year in which the Four-Year War came to an end, but also the year in which the Forty-Year Occupation began to approach its end. Not only the year in which Israel proved its sanity and its strength, but also the year in which Israel began to return to itself.
Thus, on second thought, it is clear that the year was one of engagement. A year of renewed engagement with reality. The disengagement of Israel from the messianic fantasy and the year of the disengagement of the Palestinians from the Arafatic delusion caused both sides to renew their dialogue with the world-as-it-is. Now there is still no possibility of arriving at meaningful dialogue between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But the very fact that the two sides are now engaged in an unprecedented dialogue with reality is creating a restrained kind of hope as the new year begins.
Among the Palestinians the new state of consciousness is still fragile and crumbly. The Palestinian pragmatism is still very thin and reversible. However, among the Israelis, it is a much deeper development. The year 5765 was an important year not only because it brought the evacuation of 25 Jewish settlements in the territories, but also because it applied the lessons Israel learned both from the occupation and from the failure of Oslo. It embodied the Israeli awakening both from the promise of the Greater Land of Israel and the promise of a perfect peace. It expressed a conscious and merciless scrutiny of reality, and it reflected an impressive ability to translate this scrutiny into a truly historic action. This time it is no longer a joke: The Israelis are indeed taking their fate in hand. They are making a last-minute effort to rescue themselves from their own mistakes.
Did the year 5765 have heroes? The commanders of the army and the police have already been identified as such, and rightly. But to them should be added the anti-hero Mahmoud Abbas. And the heads of the Yesha Council (Yesha is the settlers' acronym for the territories of Judea, Samaria and Gaza), who when the moment of truth arrived bowed their heads before Israeli sovereignty. And they should also be joined by the officers and the soldiers and the settlers who stood the test of the disengagement in such a wonderful way. However, above all these is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The man who shaped each year of the 21st century so far shaped this year as well. He was the one who filled the Israeli political vacuum with a governing center of gravity. He is the one who came back and bent Israeli policy to a reality principle.
He is the one who succeeding in swimming in the local and regional cesspool in order to bring us all to some sort of shore of hope. After Yasser Arafat was removed from the conflict, Ariel Sharon has remained onstage as almost the only regional player. He is the person around whom Israeli politics revolves. He is the person who is now to a large extent outlining the fate of the Zionist project. He is the one determining the agenda of the Middle East.
New horizon needed Exactly five years have elapsed since the day when opposition head Sharon went up on the Temple Mount. During the three years that followed that ascent, Sharon drew his power from his ability to conduct the war on terror wisely, patiently and with restraint. During the subsequent two years, Sharon drew his strength from the fact that he had placed before the nation the horizon of the disengagement. That horizon is now behind us. Therefore, even after the internal Likud decision in his favor that he achieved toward the end of the year, Sharon needs a new horizon. He needs a new goal and a new idea and a new conceptual system. Only by means of these will he be able to continue to move forward toward the completion of his life's mission: establishing the borders of the State of Israel. The partition of the land in a way that will ensure in the long term the existence of the State of Israel, even in the absence of peace. Even with a continuation of the conflict. Even in the heart of a region that is inundated by waves and beset by breakage.
The major international event of the past year was the tsunami. The other international event was Katrina. Both of them were events of rushing water. Events of the flooding of life by towering waters. However here, on the Israeli island, the past year was a year of standing in the face of the waters. A year of building dams. Indeed, here, the past year brought into being the new Israel that has arisen out of the war of the third millennium. An Israel that knows it is surrounded by a stormy sea. An Israel that understands it is living on constant alert for a future storm. But an Israel that feels that there is no need for panic. That to a large extent, it will itself determine its own future. And therefore it is going ahead and building a levee. Going ahead and building a sea wall. Doing so to ensure that the waves will not take its life.