Stop Waiting for the Phone to Ring

Shortly after the end of fighting in the 1967 war, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave an interview to the BBC. His response to a question about Israel's expectations from its neighbors is still echoing in the ether of the Middle East: "We're waiting for a phone call from the Arabs." Today, the time has come to change the message and begin taking practical steps toward a separation from the territories conquered during that war.

Dayan's words reflected not only the arrogance of a leader who was drunk with victory, but also the sigh of relief of a besieged nation that felt saved from annihilation. With 20/20 hindsight, the historians claim that the atmosphere of fear that enveloped Israel during the May-June waiting period was exaggerated, if not actually consciously encouraged by the government, but people who were there remember the terror of those days and the palpable threat that hung above them. As a result, Dayan's response was met with general consensus: Israel felt as if it had been saved from a holocaust, and with a mixture of pride and anger announced to the world that it was satisfied with the results of the military confrontation that its enemies had forced on it, and that it did not intend to initiate anything to change those results.

Less than a decade passed before Dayan was forced to swallow his words. When the opportunity for peace with Egypt knocked, Dayan followed the rule that Israel does not push away the hand extended in peace and ignored his declaration that "Sharm el-Sheikh is preferable to peace." This approach also guided Yitzhak Rabin in the Oslo agreement and in the peace agreement with Jordan.

Successive Israeli governments were unable to free themselves, however, of the country's grasp of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, until Ariel Sharon evacuated Gaza. Yesterday's elections were, in retrospect, a kind of referendum on the disengagement plan, and, as the leaders of both Kadima and Likud declared, a type of referendum on the consolidation plan. Without knowing the election results (since this is being written before the ballot-counting began), one can say that the vox populi has been heard: the people prefer peace over territory, and if peace is not an option, then a lull based on deterrence that will permit the state to divert resources into promoting the welfare and quality of life of its citizens.

The will of the public was reflected in its response to the disengagement and the polls that accompanied both it and the election campaign. The "orange," anti-disengagement camp lost its battle. Similarly, the preelection polls predicted a poor showing for parties that championed holding on to the West Bank, and some officials even within those parties (Likud, for example) declared a willingness to return territory under certain conditions.

The conclusion is clear: after more than a generation, the penny has finally dropped. The public understands that Israel must wake up from its dream of keeping Judea and Samaria. The political leadership is gradually coming to terms with this realization but it still hesitates to translate belief into actions and is certainly not setting a schedule.

The time has come to stop this foot-dragging: the main role of the elected government will be to take steps that will lead to a separation from the territories. First, it must stop waiting for a phone call from Hamas. Instead of sitting smugly on the sidelines and watching events in the Palestinian Authority, waiting for our conditions to be met, the new government in Israel must take the initiative to change the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Six-Day War was a just and appropriate response to a genuine existential threat; the settlement lust was a mutation that led to desecration. Times have changed, and even telephones are not what they were 39 years ago.