A Country in the Bleachers

As opposed to the usual scene in the sports stadium, the silent majority is sitting in the bleachers and really is keeping silent. (Practically) the entire country is watching the preparations for disengagement as if it hails from the United Nations, as if it is saying, `Let the government play before us,' and we'll see how it makes out. And the country doesn't know just how deep are the feelings of loneliness and vulnerability on the part of the prime minister and the group of ministers that supports his initiative.

The media is actually cooperating with the government; the support it is giving to the disengagement is so sweeping that it raises ethical and professional questions about its impartiality. Objections have been heard regarding the fact that the anti-disengagement stance is not heard enough, that the newspapers show lenience when it comes to suspicions of criminal behavior by Ariel Sharon and his sons, that it does not discuss the disengagement plan seriously enough, and that it gives big discounts to Sharon in the way it responded to the controversial process Sharon put into action to get his plan passed in his party and the cabinet (his ignoring the results of the Likud members' referendum, and the firing of the National Union ministers to attain a clear majority for the vote in the cabinet).

Whether or not this criticism is justified, it must be said in defense of the press that it is not sweeping disengagement under the rug, but is debating it with complete transparency before its readers. It must also be said that, all in all, the public is getting a full picture of disengagement, including the feelings of its opponents. However, like in the days of Oslo, and as opposed to the usual relationship between the press and the government, the prime minister has no reason to complain: Most of the media is supporting his plan unequivocally.

There is an absurdity in this phenomenon: The media is supposedly reflecting the opinion of the majority, as it is reflected in opinion polls. The backing the media gives the disengagement plan is therefore the result of taking the emotional pulse of most of the public. Nevertheless, most of the public remains silent. It does not actively express its sympathetic stance toward the withdrawal initiative, it does not translate its position into a palpable public mood. The public remains distant, letting the prime minister and a rather small group of ministers and officials take all its chestnuts out of the fire. Moreover, the public is acting like it is putting Sharon to a test, as if the prime minister is a gladiator sent into the ring, and the whole country is waiting for a stirring contest to judge his ability.

If the prime minister is neutralized tomorrow morning, the disengagement plan will go down the drain. This possibility is not unfounded: Sharon might fall in a party putsch, because of sudden health problems, because of a violent attack by extremists. Does it go without saying that Sharon's departure from the Prime Minister's Office will automatically lead to the demise of disengagement? Why should this be accepted, when the evacuation of Gaza and northern Samaria is considered a move that is favored by most of the public? Why should the fate of disengagement be utterly dependent on one man?

The start of the departure from the occupied territories is of prime national interest to the entire country. It is natural and legitimate that there will be a minority that objects to it. The zealous right-wing has the right to express its opposition and it takes advantage of it to the last iota and even beyond (threats by extremists to thwart the will of the majority by force). Meanwhile, the majority, which supposedly supports the plan, is not turning its support into a manifest presence.

The majority is not taking to the streets to demonstrate its support for the prime minister's plan. Instead of proving its willingness to fight for its opinion, the majority has chosen not to become involved. And hanging in the balance is not just the chance to correct a distortion created in 1967 that promises calamity for the development of the country, but also the ability of all recognized authorities to enforce their decisions and continue functioning.