The High Commissioner Has Left

Both the right and the left are having a hard time internalizing the fact that Israel declared independence 57 years ago, that the British Mandate is over and that the United States is in no rush to inherit it.

A common aspect of the disagreement over the settlements is the shared expectation that America will behave like a supreme planning commission overseeing the Israeli building enterprise in the territories.

Both the right and the left are having a hard time internalizing the fact that Israel declared independence 57 years ago, that the British Mandate is over and that the United States is in no rush to inherit it.

The right is trying to revive the tower-and-stockade myth, and to present the building of the settlement outposts and occupation of the hilltops as a continuation of the struggle against the British "White Paper" that restricted immigration and settlement in Mandatory Palestine.

So what if the laws now being violated were passed by the Jewish state and not a foreign power, and that the blue-and-white government provides security and budgets for the new settlement points. It would be a shame to spoil the myth with mere details.

Even Ariel Sharon says we mustn't talk out loud about expansion of the settlements. Who knows, maybe the English will hear. He's forgotten that Harold MacMichael, the high commissioner who symbolized England's impassiveness and its betrayal of Zionism, is no longer around. There is no one to hide from. Nor is it possible to conceal the progress of construction.

They are acting the same way on the left, except in reverse. Just as Zambish (Ze'ev Chever) is hiding from representatives of the "alien regime," so too do his ideological opponents hope that America will demonstrate responsibility and send Israel back to the Green Line.

The left has its own myth, which is built around nostalgia for little pre-occupation Israel. And, until history is recast, they pin vain hopes on the American spy satellites, which it is said are engaged in constant surveillance of Pinhas Wallerstein's trailers. Any and every statement issued by the president or an American official against the settlements is received by the left as the beginning of redemption.

The Bush administration was more active than its predecessors in the campaign to restrain new settlements, squeezing out of Sharon a pledge to pull out the settlement outposts, and was nearly dragged into "limiting" the construction, which never ended. But too late; any available land in the West Bank was long ago covered by houses and trailers, and the administration is having a hard time persuading the Sharon government of its resolve.

America went through the motions in opposing settlements as "an obstacle to peace." It made do with this, and not out of any weakness: When it relates to its interests, the U.S. is quite adept at crushing Israel. Need we go further for proof than to see how the administration suspended security contacts as punishment for Israel's overhaul of parts for a Chinese drone. Drone parts! What are they compared to the "two-state vision" and other nice slogans of resolving the conflict?

The Americans did not even try "soft" pressure, such as conditioning the foreign aid to Israel on cancellation of national A-level priority (which provides tax breaks to residents and investors) for the settlements. A little ranting is enough. History will show that they were against settlements from the start, and considered them a foolish waste of energy. But responsibility for them remains Israel's.

Israeli governments, from Labor and from Likud, saw the settlements as a supreme national interest, and invested blood, sweat and tears in their establishment and development. Portraying these governments as simpletons that were dragged into it all by Levinger, Katzover and their friends frees them of responsibility, and is inaccurate.

The same holds true for withdrawal: When the balance of forces was not tipped in Israel's favor, it conceded the settlements in Sinai, and now it wants to pull them out of the Gaza Strip. Not because of any discoveries made by the American satellite or any reports issued by Peace Now, but because of the realization that maintaining them is too expensive. The deal in which the Golan would have been given back was halted because keeping the status quo on the Golan Heights doesn't cost anything.

The time has come, then, for the public dispute to mature. The fight over the settlements should be carried on in domestic public opinion, not in vain attempts to involve foreign powers. Bush is not MacMichael, and he will not send his sergeants to dismantle the settlement outpost that was built the night before. That is the important message of the disengagement: A grown-up state makes its own decisions on its fate and future, and does not wait in vain for redemption from outside.