Maybe Likud Can, but Doesn't Want to

The disengagement referendum ought to disengage the peace camp once and for all from its delusion that "only the Likud can." Perhaps the Likud can, but the Likud surely does not want to.

The following lines can be written even before we know whether a little more than half the Likud members supported the disengagement plan, or whether a little more than half dropped an against vote into the ballot box. It is already possible to state that the idea that "only the Likud can" is dead. Likud members and their leaders have refuted the "peace camp's" assumption that only the right can evacuate settlements and bring peace.

Ariel Sharon, the settlers' darling, did not succeed in sweeping the members of his party behind his plan to bring 8,000 settlers and tens of thousands of soldiers, who are surrounded by 1.3 million Palestinians, back home. An initiative whose sole goal was to turn the Gaza Strip into a besieged enclave earned only the quarter-hearted support of senior Likud ministers, who will plainly not shed a tear if it is pronounced dead.

The referendum among Likud members and the positions taken by the majority of Likud ministers lifted the veil that Likud leaders have spread over their party's face since the Oslo Accords were signed. Benjamin Netanyahu and Sharon found that one poll after another showed a majority of the public still supports the evacuation of the entire Gaza Strip and most of the settlements of the West Bank. They therefore replaced the promise of the whole Land of Israel with promises that they, and only they, could bring security; they, and only they, could find attractive Palestinian partners; they, and only they, could reach a peace agreement with those partners. With the aid of vague slogans such as, "I have confidence in Sharon's peace" and generalities on the order of "painful concessions," they were able to attract hundreds of thousands of peace-seeking voters to their side.

Tens of thousands of Labor Party and Shinui members supported (and, according to the polls, still support) a national unity government, assuming that, with a little help from Shimon Peres and Yosef Lapid, Sharon would do to the settlers of Ofra what he did to the settlers of Yamit. But the only change that has taken place since spring 2001, when Peres, "the architect of Oslo," led his party into Sharon's first government - which was erroneously called a "unity government" - is the construction of new outposts and the enlargement of the settlements. The battle over the plan shows that the Likud can - but does not want to - pay the price of peace. People who are not willing to give up a handful of isolated settlements on the Gaza coast and in northern Samaria will not give up Ofra and Beit El.

The problem that bedeviled supporters of disengagement was not a flawed campaign or poor organization. This is not the first time Likud members and leaders have lifted the rosy veil from the party's face. In May 2002, the Likud Central Committee decided by a large majority that "no Palestinian state will be established west of the Jordan [River]." Then, as well, Sharon stood almost alone, facing off against the majority of Likud ministers, headed by Netanyahu. A party that is opposed to a solution of two states for two peoples, to bilateral negotiations and to unilateral steps, is not a partner for peace. Whether Sharon is a prisoner of his worldview, of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, or of the conservative positions of the members of his party - the Likud is no partner for a party of peace.

If, despite the reservations of his party and its ministers, Sharon decides to implement his plan to evacuate the settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Labor and Shinui must not give him any excuse for reneging. They must support as speedy a disengagement as possible, and with that, they will have completed their role in the service of the right.

The disengagement referendum enables the parties left of Likud to go to the broad public that supports a compromise and prove to it that compromise and the right are mutually exclusive. The rehabilitation of the peace process was and remains the job of political forces that advocate negotiations with the elected representatives of the Palestinian people rather than the imposition of patchwork solutions. The solution was and remains the Clinton framework, the Geneva Initiative and the road map.

The disengagement referendum ought to disengage the peace camp once and for all from its delusion that "only the Likud can." Perhaps the Likud can, but the Likud surely does not want to.