Sinking Toward a post-Zionist Dunghill

The decision not to open Gaza's border with Egypt and not to give the Palestinians a sea port and airport is a mistake. It will turn the Gaza Strip, on the day after the withdrawal, into a huge overcrowded compound of despair, which Israel will be responsible for.

A.B.Yehoshua is right - the disengagement concept runs very deep. Much deeper than the prime minister imagines. The fact that after 37 years of occupation, Israel is now gearing up for a national project of disengagement from the Palestinians is weighty. Because, as Yehoshua claims, the Zionist story is basically a story of disengagement. The Zionist story is the story of the attempt to be freed from the disastrous tendency of the Jewish people to be involved in the lives of others.

Since this is so, the political idea that Ariel Sharon will bring to the White House next week is not a tactical one but a strategic notion with historic significance. If translated into a worthy action plan, it will give the State of Israel a border and Israelis a renewed feeling of home. If translated into a correct action plan, the disengagement idea will provide a fitting Zionist answer to the malignant post-Zionism of the era of settlers, messianic groups and delusional radical rightists.

But today, a week before his trip to Washington, the doubts about the disengagement plan that Sharon will bring with him to the Oval Office are growing. The decision not to open Gaza's border with Egypt and not to give the Palestinians a sea port and airport is a mistake. It will turn the Gaza Strip, on the day after the withdrawal, into a huge overcrowded compound of despair, which Israel will be responsible for.

The decision to evacuate four West Bank settlements is also wrong. On the one hand, evacuating such a small number of settlements will solve no real problem in the West Bank, and on the other hand the symbolic evacuation will encourage the Palestinians to increase the pressure on the remaining 100. This is a sure recipe for intensifying the violence and increasing the instability.

These two grave mistakes are not accidental. They derive from the fact that the present governing administration, headed by Dov Weisglass and Sharon, has no principles, inspiration or vision. Even when this administration tries to implement the right political move, it does so with no comprehensive, coherent concept.

Therefore, as it moves from one pressure point to another, from one intuition to the next, this back-slapping administration progresses all the time from one combination to another. It's trying to stitch together a wide historic quilt from patches that don't fit.

The main importance of the disengagement act is in creating a clear dividing line between the Israeli area and the Palestinian area. For historic, demographic, military and moral reasons, and because of questions of identity, Israel has an existential need for such a line. For those very reasons the Palestinians insist on preventing it.

Just like the Israeli messiahs, the Palestinians are interested in chaotic ambiguity rather than in the clarity of sovereignty. Since this is so, any disengagement plan worthy of its name must draw a clear dividing line based on concrete demographic logic and on minimal international legitimacy.

The Weisglass-Sharon plan does not draw such a line. It surrounds the Gaza Strip with a ring of destructive ambiguity and plunges the West Bank into acute disorder. It gives the Palestinians too little and receives from the Americans nothing at all.

Since it does not offer the Green Line nor the separation fence line as the new border, it undermines the status quo without offering an alternative stabilizing system. This plan creates the dynamics of a continued conflict along lines that have no inner logic, no moral justification and no vision.

What is the alternative? There are two. One is a full Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, while at the same time rehabilitating it and opening it to the Arab world, and leaving the West Bank open for a year or two. The second is the Barak alternative - a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Strip and a retreat to the West Bank fence line, while evacuating all the settlements beyond the fence.

Each alternative carries quite a few risks. Each is very hard to carry out. However, they both offer that which the Weisglass-Sharon plan is missing - clarity. They both draw a clear dividing line between Israelis and Palestinians.

Sharon's visit in the United States will be a formative one. If the attorney general does not remove Sharon from office, this visit will determine the way in which Israel will start ending the occupation. If Sharon is deposed, this visit will determine whether he leaves behind some kind of political heritage, whether he ends his 76 years of Zionism at some feasible finishing line.

In the coming week Sharon must decide - is he going for a comprehensive, coherent and courageous disengagement plan, or will he prefer some dubious parve plan. If he is going to leave behind a real Zionist act or if he will leave Israel sunk to its neck in the post-Zionist dunghill with no border, no feeling of home and continued occupation.