Referendum Now

The precedent of the destruction of Zionist settlements in the Land of Israel is a dramatic one. Therefore, the accepted rules of the ordinary parliamentary game do not apply here. The mass uprooting needs a solid moral basis.

When you ask people close to Sharon what will be, they say it will be okay; there will be a majority; and they take a napkin from the cafe and add up a long column of numbers. They get to 65, 70, maybe even 75 Knesset members, and explain that even among the remaining MKs, there will be many that would not be able to vote against. Therefore there will be a large majority in the Knesset in favor of disengagement. There will also be a stable majority for the budget, meaning that until the end of the civilian year, there will be an unequivocal majority in favor of withdrawal. There will also be a strong government. There's no reason for concern.

Nevertheless, there is reason for concern. Because the act of uprooting families from their homes is not a routine matter. The act of evacuating an entire region of its Jewish residents is not an ordinary act of government. The precedent of the destruction of Zionist settlements in the Land of Israel is a dramatic one. Therefore, the accepted rules of the ordinary parliamentary game do not apply here. The mass uprooting needs a solid moral basis. It cannot depend on the familiar sort of political manipulation. What's more, this is not a case of uprooting-for-peace. It is not even a case of uprooting-for-calm. It is a case of the uprooting of blood, sweat and tears.

Two dangers lie at the feet of Sharon's disengagement wheeling and dealing. One danger is that opponents of the process will prove to the prime minister thrice-over that they are more serious than he thinks. Even if it might seem from the napkin tally that Sharon now has a sizeable Knesset majority, it is not at all simple to realize the disengagement against the express wishes of the ruling party. It is not simple to push through such a sensitive undertaking while trampling on proper voting arrangements and bypassing elected institutions.

The Sharon gang's disregarding the question of the legitimacy of the process is not smart. It plays into the hands of Uzi Landau and Yisrael Katz. For even those who vehemently support disengagement cannot ignore the fact that Likud members have already said no to the move. Even those who support disengagement must understand that you cannot bypass the "no" of the members of Likud. You cannot weave stratagems around it. You have to give it the right democratic response.

The second danger lying at the foot of the let's-make-a-disengagement-deal is even more serious. At the end of the day, after all of the Givat Ram decisions, the test of the disengagement will be out in the field. The moment that a kippa-wearing officer from an elite unit faces off against a kippa-wearing settler from Netzarim, that will be the supreme test of Israeli democracy. And in order to get through that moment in one piece, in order that it not lead to a national cataclysm, the ethical burden on the shoulders of the young officer must be lightened as much as possible.

Such a burden must include the understanding that Israeli sovereignty is standing behind him. That is what is sending him to uproot his friend from his home. Not Goldfarb's Mitsubishi. Not Inbal Gavrieli's politics. Not the wheeling and dealing of Eli Aflalo and Leah Ness and Yehiel Hazan.

The conclusion is clear: there is no choice but to hold a general referendum. Referendum now. Only a clear decision rendered in a referendum will provide a suitable democratic response to the Likud rebels. Only a clear decision rendered in a referendum will reduce the danger of a violent settler revolt, and make clear to the traditional and religious Jews among us that it is the People of Israel that made the sovereign decision to partition the Land of Israel. A referendum involves hard work. In order for two-thirds of Israelis to say yes to disengagement, legislation must be passed by the Knesset, an information campaign must be waged, you have to go door to door. You have to rouse the pragmatic Israeli majority from its summer slumber and heed the call to action.

It is easy for Sharon's cohorts to think that all of this is unnecessary. It is easy for them to believe that it is possible to reach the objective by a shortcut. However, when the issue is the uprooting of thousands from their homes, the shortcut could actually make it longer. The shortcut could make it dangerous. In the extreme case, it could even make it bloody.

Not only the withdrawal will be hard. The day after the withdrawal could be hard, too. It could be a day of Qassam rockets on Ashkelon. A day of terrorist attacks in central Israel. A day of cruel sobering up. In order that the Israeli public be able to endure the certain cruelty of the withdrawal as well as the possible cruelty of the day after the withdrawal, all it would take is for the withdrawal decision to be right. The public has to know that it itself made this right decision in a proper and fair democratic procedure. Each of us should be part of the existential decision on the disengagement. That is the only possible way to ensure that all of us bear the shared responsibility for its outcome.