After the Yesha Council Lost the Ayin'

After failing to create a rupture in society, the Yesha Council is changing its method of action from the ideological to the practical, to the political.

"No one looks after us. Even those we stayed for until the end. Those who planned the national trauma together with us no longer know our names," one of the evacuees from Gush Katif complained to me last week.

He wears a kippa and describes himself as "one of the ideological settlers." Some members of his family live in a settlement in the West Bank. He does not want to be identified by name because: "My battles are over, and I have no interest in becoming the focus of pressure from politicians, those who are now coming out in a dance of contrition. Contrition? With our evacuation, we bequeathed Judea and Samaria to them."

This speaker is not alone in his views, though it is difficult to know whether he represents a majority of the evacuees. But he presents a fascinating aspect of the failure of the settlement movement.

According to the plan of the settler leaders, the disengagement from Gaza was supposed to generate a national trauma. And this was supposed to create the mother of all ruptures in society, or the all-embracing "bonding." The plan apparently failed. This is evident in the reactions in the Likud Central Committee, the defeat of Netanyahu and the realization that no force on the right believes it has the power to exploit withdrawal as real leverage against Sharon.

The plan's failure can also be measured by the power of the silence emanating from the Yesha Council, which now must change its name to Yesh Council after losing the "a." [Yesha is a Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza; the "a" stands for the letter "ayin" - the first letter in the Hebrew word for Gaza.] According to its public statements about the trauma, it seems that if Sharon seeks to also withdraw from the West Bank settlements of Ofra or Beit El tomorrow, it is doubtful whether enough demonstrators could be found to fill Rabin Square.

This is because national cooperation is required in order to construct a national trauma. It requires systems of education and culture to artificially inflate it, texts and albums, remembrance days and museums, the funding of films and plays, until it is clear to every politician that for countless generations, or at least for generations, he may not utter the word "withdrawal" again. All of this did not happen. The personal tragedy of the evacuees did not develop into a trauma of the settlement movement. And not only because of the "enemy" government of Israel. The Yesha Council also retreated to its ideological lair when it realized that the idea of "the fight for the home" at most raises an eyebrow among the majority of Israelis.

Even more severe from the perspective of the pillars of settlement ideology is the illusion that Sharon succeeded in planting: that the withdrawal from Gaza will bring us closer to peace. According to this logic, the settlers in Judea and Samaria, by the very fact of their presence there, become the enemies of peace and undermine security. And this is in addition to the image of economic exploiters that has stuck to them. Paradoxically, the settlers now find themselves in alliance with some of the left - those who contend, with considerable justification, that the withdrawal from Gaza did not advance the peace process. And with allies like these, it is best for the settlers' ideologues to remain quiet. They can let the left do the work for them. After all, why reinforce their image as opponents of peace?

The Yesha Council's method of action, therefore, is moving from the ideological to the practical, to the political; the settler leadership is now reaching its true historic struggle. It is no longer a nonessential battle to settle in the hearts of the public, a battle whose success was not a matter of real concern for the Yesha Council during the past decades because it could always rely on the fact that "the government is with it." It is also no longer a battle over the Greater Land of Israel. It seems that the Yesha settlers realize that from now on they will need to struggle to join the State of Israel and not vice versa. It is a political battle - for example, over the path of the wall or the demarcation of borders. It is a battle in which, for the first time, the citizens of Israel will have a decisive vote, or at least an equal one, to that of the settlers. This is a new situation and an unfamiliar one for the settlers. It is a situation in which even the evacuee from Gaza can only be thankful that Gaza came first.