Democracy's Losses

Democracy's loss will only be peace's gain if Sharon commits to putting the peace process back on track where it was left by the left after his trip to the Temple Mount.

According to Minister Natan Sharansky's doctrine, the ultimate test of a democratic regime is whether citizens can stand in the town square and shout whatever they want about their leaders, who over the years sent soldiers to get killed in Netzarim and poured fortunes into the support of the handful of residents living there - and then one day decided that Netzarim is unnecessary.

The citizen need not fear to say aloud what he thinks about a prime minister who not only insists on a pullout from Gaza, but also that it should take place without getting anything in return from the Palestinians. According to Sharansky, Israel deserves to win the world championship in democracy. Our authorities in Jerusalem do not only allow citizens to incite against the prime minister, but also in favor of a civic uprising.

Freedom of expression is no doubt a necessary condition for a regime's character, but in a healthy democracy the citizenry is not satisfied with just the right to protest. In a democracy worthy of the name, leaders pay a price for wasting lives and public funds to no avail. In properly run countries politicians are sent home for much less terrible mistakes.

But our leaders don't even bother to even mumble an "Oops, we made a mistake" - let alone offer an apology. Only in Israel do the members of the prime minister's camp threaten to bring him down because of a revolution that he led with respect to the party's policies, while the opposition hurries to rescue him. No wonder people lose their faith in the system and look for solutions like a referendum. Thus representative democracy is also joining the victims being fed to the Moloch of disengagement.

If there were a sign that Ariel Sharon was sorry for his mistakes and planned to open negotiations with the new Palestinian leadership for a final status agreement, he could at least be forgiven. If there were a sign, a hint, that Ehud Olmert, patron of Ateret Cohanim, which has generated so much strife in East Jerusalem, was ready to risk the division of Jerusalem, he would be worthy of the forgiving attitude deserved by the newly repentant. As in the case of the peace treaty with Egypt, in the absence of support from the right for a political agreement that would put an end to the bloodshed, democracy must suffer this distorted situation in which the right conducts the policies of the left. For the sake of peace, kibbutznik Haim Oron is allowed to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu's Thatcherite budget.

According to the tunes being played in the prime minister's bureau, the change of regime in Ramallah did not have any impact on Sharon's plans regarding a final agreement. The day after the London meeting last week, one of the newspapers reported that "there is growing fear in Jerusalem that after the disengagement from Gaza, international pressure will mount concerning a final status agreement." That's right - fear of a peace agreement. Abu Mazen's call to adopt the principle of mutuality with regard to actions against terror and the occupation, as written and agreed to with signatures in the road map plan, has not echoed in the public arena; Likud ministers complained the London Meeting did not deal with terror enough, and the Labor Party's minister did not even bother to point out to them Abu Mazen's statement that "our main message to our Israeli neighbors is our sincere readiness to devote 100 percent efforts in matters of security."

Abu Mazen's demand of the U.S. and the rest of the Quartet to meet their commitment to convene an international conference to advance the road map also was left like a voice calling in the global political desert.

Sharon did not admit his fateful mistake in believing it was possible to rule another nation by force of arms, and he has not given up the notion that it is possible to end the violence without negotiating with the neighbors about the borders, an arrangement in Jerusalem and a solution to the refugee problem. Sharon will deserve the compassion of the peace camp only if he orders an immediate end to all the unilateral steps he is taking in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, starting with the construction of the fence outside the sovereign territory of Israel.

Democracy's loss will only be peace's gain if Sharon commits to putting the peace process back on track where it was left by the left after his famous trip to the Temple Mount.