Onward, Ship of Fools

How do we refrain from turning the next Israeli disengagement into a crushing defeat?

We have been fools before. We were fools in 1967, when we failed to understand the curse of the territories; and in 1973, when we failed to see the approaching Yom Kippur War. We were fools when we set up the settlements, and when we invaded Lebanon, when we believed that Oslo signified the End of Days, and when we hoped that Camp David would spell an end to the conflict. That said, it appears we have never before been the fools we are now - conscious fools, who choose not to know, who choose not to understand the kind of storm into which they are sailing.

The Hamas victory of January 25, is an historic event from two perspectives. On the one hand, it has taken us back 30 years, to the pre-Israeli-Palestinian dialogue days, to the days of a real demand for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and of a desire for total annihilation. It has taken us back to the days when Gamal Abdel Nasser and Ahmed Shukeiri would speak in the same, forgotten, threatening terms being used today by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud a-Zahar and Khaled Meshal.

On the other hand, the Hamas victory has put us in a position in which we have never been before. When the representative of the Palestinian people is not nationalist-secular but religious-fundamentalist, a nightmare comes true. The conflict no longer centers on the occupation of 1967, or the catastrophe of 1948. It is a religious-cultural conflict of the darkest kind. It is not a Gush Katif or Muasi conflict; it's an Al-Aqsa conflict - a conflict between believers and nonbelievers, between Jihad fighters and Crusaders.

While the fundamentalists may still be a minority in Palestinian society, this minority is now in power, and represents the Palestinian people on a whole. And while there may be different voices within Hamas, with some of its leaders characterized by tactical pragmatism, Hamas does not and will not recognize Israel's right to exist. And while Determinism may not exist in history - and perhaps in a few years time the Palestinians will reject the Hamas offer and go back to being rational political players who seek a solution - for now, until further notice, the reality is as such: We are up against a Palestinian neighbor whose countenance has changed beyond recognition; and he is telling us to go, not to be here, to cease to exist.

Israel of the 21st century has a hard time dealing with this reality. It is hard for us to contemplate an ongoing, direct confrontation, to consider the possibility that truly, deep down, there is no one to talk to. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that now, when we have finally accepted the idea of two states, the Palestinians are rejecting it. We don't know what to do when faced with Palestinians who are demanding everything, from the river to the sea.

And we have another difficulty to boot: We are having a tough time recognizing the fact that the new Palestinians, the fundamentalists, are making it big. They are the ones who got us out of Gaza, and they are about to get us out of the West Bank without us being able to fortify our existence within amended 1967 borders. We are having a tough time recognizing the fact that they are forcing us into a gradual withdrawal to the Clinton lines without us getting any of the Clinton promises in return - peace, demilitarization, no right of return. In short, we are having a hard time dealing with the fact that we are being outplayed by Palestinian fundamentalism.

Following a lengthy war of terror, Hamas is about to establish a hostile Palestinian state, without us being safe within the defendable borders of a recognized Jewish state. Hamas is about to push Israel back to the vicinity of the Green Line without being forced to forgo a single one of its demands from Israel within the Green Line.

This is the way things stand. This is the corral in which Israel finds itself. And with the situation as it is, the question isn't how did we get here, but where do we go from here? Onward to where? How do we refrain from turning the next Israeli disengagement into a crushing defeat? How do we deal with the curse of the occupation without magnifying the malignant growth of the fundamentalism? How do we withdraw from the Land of Israel without shaking the foundations of the existence of the State of Israel?

These questions are existential ones. They require new thinking, new strategy, new discourse. They require a business-like, profound public debate. These questions should be at the center of the election campaign, at the end of which lies a fateful decision. But the Israeli public and the elite in Israel have chosen not to ask these questions - not really, not earnestly. After all, everything's just dandy right now, and the trance party is in full flow. And on the upper deck, to the sounds of the DJ, the fat cats are celebrating a new captain. And the new captain is celebrating with the fat cats.

And more than ever before, we choose not to see the black sea on which our ship of fools is sailing. We choose not to see the rising waves. Onward, we dance. Onward, we call. Onward, ship of fools.