Public Enemy Number One

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has no reason to envy the advantage enjoyed by the Palestinian Authority in that it is not democratic and can do whatever it likes with its public.

Finance Minister Silvan Shalom has reminded us where our national strength lies. "Go out to the malls," he urged Israeli citizens; while almost every evening before the news, we are treated to a television commercial in which an impersonator with a certain likeness to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the Israeli public: "Now is the time to take a vacation in Israel."

The evening after the terror attack in Haifa, comedian Eli Yatspan began his program with a serious speech to the nation, making it clear to all of us that if we do not laugh and continue our lives as normal, "they will win" - they, of course, being the terrorists.

A few hours earlier, at a press conference that he called after his return from Washington, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke enviously of the perseverance and resolve of the American nation and about how American politicians mobilized around the national goal. It suddenly seemed as if Israeli citizens were not only cowards, but traitors too; or, at the very least, dodgers of the national draft office. It appears that the Israeli government has two enemies: Palestinian terror and the fears of the public that voted it into office.

Against the Palestinians, the state can use planes and tanks. But what do it do against the public? And the public is sometimes a dangerous enemy. It can cause the government to lose prestige; after all, it once forced it to withdraw from Lebanon. In other countries, the public has caused governments to withdraw from other quagmires - for example, the United States from Vietnam, France from Algeria and the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

However, that very same public has always been loyal and devoted - always ready, in times of danger, to concede the principles of democracy; willing, time after time, to wipe its memory clean and believe the government when it says it has the solution to terror. Yes, that it is just around the corner; just a few more bombs, a few more sorties by air force planes and everything will be just fine: Arafat will blink; his public will not be able take any more; and look, there are already cracks in the facade. But the "spirit of `48" is a universal concept, and one that is not unique to Israelis.

On the other side, too, there is a loyal and devoted public, mobilized to a cause and telling its leaders the exact same thing. It is also looking for the cracks in Israeli society with a magnifying glass and praying that the neighboring public will save it from the neighboring government. But it is a public that is competing with Israel from a vantage point: It has less to lose in this war. At most, its government will fall and it will return to living under full occupation instead of under siege. After all, it cannot send its children to the malls because it does not have any; and it does not have to be afraid to travel to work by bus because it doesn't have work; and no one will consider it a traitor if it does not spend the weekend at a Palestinian hotel.

There are no better conditions for the mobilization of a society than those under which the Palestinians live. Sharon did not have to go all the way to Washington to be envious of a society that gives its full support to its leadership. There is a society like that just around the corner, and its goals are no different to those of Israeli society - to draw blood from the other side, to prove that no deals can be made with the leadership the other society has chosen, and to show that justice, morality and natural law are exclusively on its side.

Sharon has no reason to envy the advantage enjoyed by the Palestinian Authority in that it is not democratic and can do whatever it likes with its public. To whom is Sharon accountable? What opposition threatens him? He is running the country with the aid of a small security cabinet, a chief of staff and a Shin Bet security service chief, but without a parliament. And the public had better remain mobilized, or risk being court martialed for treason.