On to the Next Evacuations, Fearlessly

There is still a long way to go until it becomes possible to overcome the settlers' insane demands, but one important mine has already been neutralized; Now we all know that the fear of them was an illusion.

The pullout has not yet begun but already there is good news: Suddenly everyone is aware of the true extent of the power of the settlers and their supporters. Not even one settler has been evacuated and already we have come to realize that this is a small, very homogenous camp.

The talk about civil war was unfounded; it was just the usual kind of threat bandied about by the settlers. Not a "nation divided" and not two equal camps, but rather a society consisting of a silent, apathetic majority and a small, vociferous, activist sect that can indeed be extremely dangerous, as proved by the terrorist act in Shfaram, but whose ranks are limited.

Despite tremendous efforts at public relations, the settlers did not manage to enlist even one additional group outside of the limited national-religious camp to their side. Despite "painting the country orange," they remain alone in their struggle. This astounding revelation could have long-lasting and fateful ramifications.

All those who have encountered the protests of the right wing over the past few weeks saw nothing more than a sea of knitted skullcaps and long skirts. Almost no secular, ultra-Orthodox, Shas supporters, Likud party members or members of kibbutzim and moshavim were at the demonstrations. These people did not come to Kfar Maimon, Ofakim or Sderot, nor did they go to Kissufim or take to the streets. The much-feared mass protest had turned out to be mere bluff.

The settlers' failure to break out of the narrow circle of their own people and students from the national religious yeshivas is particularly pertinent against the backdrop of the prophesies of doom and the danger to the regime in Israel, and their tremendous success in the media.

It was not merely the country that they painted orange but also the media, which went overboard in describing and exaggerating their real and imagined difficulties, with piles of words, reports and pictures.

Every insignificant rabbi who opened his mouth was quoted with huge headlines, every whim of every mad extremist was pushed to the top of the public agenda, every encroachment on the law was glorified.

For a short while, the entire country reverberated with illusory messianic rhetoric that was strange and alien to the ears of most Israelis, until one could begin to think their struggle had succeeded. Talk about, "The sanctity of the land" and, "The expulsion of Jews" became taken for granted. Over long weeks, they aroused sympathy for their unjust cause - but nevertheless they did not succeed in bringing any new group out into the streets.

What didn't they try? Waves of love ("Love will triumph"); terrorizing the population (by blocking roads); and threatening wholesale refusal to carry out orders and even mass suicides, but the secular citizens, who make up the majority of our society, stayed home. At most, they hung an orange ribbon on their car and drove to the beach.

Now we know for certain that this is a small sect. This is merely a preliminary assessment, but even if very upsetting scenes occur during the evacuation, it will already have been made clear that they are restricted to this limited camp.

Now that we are aware of this encouraging balance of power, it will be possible, when the time comes, to go ahead without fear with additional pullouts. The land is still very far from being divided fairly between the two peoples, but the isolation of the settlers and the revelation of the limits of their power make it possible to advance this division in the future.

At the most, the camp of activists is estimated at about 100,000. No matter how determined they are, they will not be able to dictate to 6.5 million citizens how their lives should be lived. This should give an important boost to those who felt that Israel would never be able to evacuate the remainder of the settlements. The silent, and terrifyingly apathetic majority has not taken any kind of initiative, but even without any action on its part, it is the real winner of the past few weeks.

Even those being evacuated from Gush Katif now appear to be a much less ideologically determined group than one might have originally thought. It is quite amazing to realize that, as far as is known, none of them has asked to join settlements in the West Bank. On the face of it, one would have thought this would be a natural step. The "heroic brothers" from here would go to become "heroic brothers" there, but it transpires that most of them now just want a house with a garden and a view of the sea. They, too, would like a part of normal life after all their years of "mission" when they led lives that, on the one hand, had a detrimental effect on their neighbors, and on the other, led them to live in constant danger, behind fences and battalions of soldiers.

Will the correct conclusions be drawn from these developments? The silent majority will continue to keep mum while the settlers will look for a new outlet for their folly.

But if we find ourselves with a new and courageous leader, he will not have to hesitate to take important steps. He will no longer be faced with the fear of a civil war; he will know that he has to deal with a group that is determined but limited in power and, most importantly, very isolated. In a normal society, this would be enough to bring about a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, something which can be done much more easily than most Israelis imagine.

Meanwhile, at least the picture has become clearer than it ever was before: There is a small messianic sect in Israel that has been blackmailing the majority for years. There is still a long way to go until it becomes possible to overcome their insane demands, but one important mine has already been neutralized; Now we all know that the fear of the settlers was an illusion.