The Test of the New Government

The occupation created circumstances that drove soldiers and civilians as individuals and the state as a whole to make illegal decisions and act contrary to the law.

The new government, which the Knesset is set to approve tomorrow, has a historic mission - to start bringing the state back to the path from which it strayed some 37 years ago. Correcting this anomaly is intended not only to determine geographic borders in keeping with the size of the state, and not merely to refine Israel's identity in a manner that will enable most of its citizens to unite on a common ground, but to apply to it a renewed code of values distinguishing clearly between what is permitted and what is prohibited.

Ironically, this tremendous task has fallen to a government that from the outset lacks the moral standing crucial to accomplish it. It would have been better had the leadership consisted of exemplary figures whose public standing would have helped to convince the people to support them. This is not so: Most of the new cabinet members do not have indisputable ethical authority. The new government is made up of individuals and parties whose ability to enlist the support of the public in the name of pure national interests and proper democratic game rules is not self-evident.

But that's the way things are, and the government may lead the state to the evacuation of Gaza and north Samaria, and take all the necessary steps to carry out this plan, at least in the name of the formal authority, which the Knesset will give it tomorrow.

Nevertheless, at least some of the claims of the settlers, who object to the evacuation, deserve to be heard. This includes their disagreement with the legality of certain steps in the decision-making process on the withdrawal, their right to object to it and their right to make the most of their freedom of expression to express their protest. The same goes for their right to deny the principle of a formal majority (the majority's decision must also be legitimate; many injustices were caused in history in the name of a technical majority), and even their right to refuse an order and bear the penalty for it.

These arguments have formal answers that tip the scales: The disengagement plan was lawfully approved by the cabinet and Knesset, the law distinguishes between protest and mutiny, every citizen must accept the state's authority, and every soldier must obey the army's orders. But these are not the main thing. The main thing is the essence that the withdrawal initiative is meant to change.

This distinction may be demonstrated by the settlers' argument that the evacuation order is patently illegal. Originally, when this phrase was coined (the court verdict in the Kafr Kasem affair), it assumed a built-in genetic code that clearly identified a patently illegal order. Now the objectors of the disengagement plan are applying this definition to the evacuation. They are doing so to blur the line between what is permitted and what is prohibited, and to spread confusion in the public and the Israel Defense Forces.

One could argue that it was the occupation that entangled the state and its soldiers in a routine of obeying patently illegal orders. When more than 1,500 unarmed Palestinian civilians, who were not involved in terror acts, are killed, it means they fell victim to patently illegal shooting procedures. The occupation created circumstances that drove soldiers and civilians as individuals and the state as a whole to make illegal decisions and act contrary to the law.

This is the disease that the disengagement plan comes to heal. It is intended to start removing a hump that distorted the state's development to such an extent that it endangered its existence and corrupted its ways, and to improve its chances of survival. If tomorrow the Knesset were approving a cabinet whose members had indisputable moral authority, it would have been easier for it to carry out the disengagement plan. As things stand, the new government will draw its power only from the formal authority entrusted to it. Its test will be in its ability to exercise leadership that will impose the state's authority on the rebellious minority.