Year of Truth

The Israeli determination to disengage and the Palestinian readiness to change make the year 2005 a year of rare opportunity. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, however, we have to move from politics to diplomacy.

The two events that best define the outgoing year took place toward its end: On Tuesday, October 26, the Israeli parliament adopted the disengagement plan, and on Monday, November 12, the Palestinian people buried Yasser Arafat. In so doing, within a span of 20 days or so, the face of the country was changed, as was the face of the Middle East.

The Jewish national movement decided in organized and democratic fashion to begin the long process of ending the occupation, while the Palestinian national movement separated in spontaneous, chaotic and perhaps temporary fashion from the ethos of terror of its founder. In so doing, without us even noticing, the war as we knew it ended. In so doing, without us having even rendered our opinion, a new peace process was launched.

There is no reason for euphoria - another round of warfare could break out before long. Unless it is properly constructed, the new peace process is, like its predecessor, liable to collapse into violence. Even the requisite step of disengagement could raise up tsunamis that would shake Israel, undermine its stability and sweep thousands down into the depths of the sea.

Nevertheless, this new year is significant. And evidently historic, as well. As opposed to all of its predecessors, 2005 is poised to be a year of truth. A year of real deeds. A year in which Israel finally takes its fate in hand and redefines the reality to which it is subject.

The year 2004 was mainly a year of politics. Yes, during this year Moshe Yaalon and Avi Dichter notched an impressive security accomplishment. Yes, during the year Benjamin Netanyahu further expanded an important economic revolution. During the year Dov Weissglas obtained for Israel a diplomatic asset that has not been adequately appreciated - Bush's declaration on April 14.

Yet bottom line, 2004 was a year of political ripening. A year in which Ariel Sharon proved that he is the only Israeli politician capable of effecting a historic turnaround here. A year in which Sharon proved that he is the sole power-agent capable of doing the dirty work and pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for the self-indulgent Israeli elite. A year in which the Sharon family proved that only it is capable of bringing the disengagement idea to political fruition.

However, 2005 is poised to be a year of statesmanship. Not a year of parliamentary manipulations, but a year of capital cases. Not a year of central committee backroom deals, but a year of deciding of fates. A year in which it will be necessary to translate the political decisions of 2004 into a durable reality. A reality that is not violent, not chaotic, not a dizzying loss of control.

The task at hand is exceedingly difficult. Not only because the settlers will be stamping their feet, and not only because Israeli society is about to undergo trauma that is liable to tear it to shreds, but because the idea of disengagement itself is a deficient idea. An idea bereft of context. An idea whose political logic is much stronger than its inherent diplomatic depth.

It can now be admitted: The disengagement plan has grown wild. It was not derived from any comprehensive worldview, but sprouted from a dynamic of constraints. Herein lies its merits. The plan is not utopian; it is practical. It is not ideological; it is applicable. Which is why the change it offers is optimal: not insignificant and not impossible, either. However, along with these merits, the disengagement plan has one inborn defect: It has no vision, has no diplomatic horizon, and is devoid of any ideological dimension. Therefore it is liable to rise up against its creators. If it is not given a proper conceptual envelope, it could even become dangerous.

It is abundantly clear what Israel decided in the course of the outgoing year: To disconnect from the moral and demographic decay of the occupation; to define borders and renew sovereignty. However, it is not at all clear what Israel has decided to connect to in the year to come. It is not at all clear where Israel wishes to lead the great historic process that it let out of the bottle.

Therefore, before the bulldozers raze the houses of Gush Katif, the new government must clarify exactly where it is headed. It must formulate an Israeli vision for disengagement. And it must create harmony between the imminent Israeli move and what is happening in the Palestinian Authority.

It must create a genuine connection between the Israeli withdrawal process and the Palestinian repair process, between the departure from Gaza and the post-Arafat spring of Ramallah.

The Israeli determination to disengage and the Palestinian readiness to change make the year 2005 a year of rare opportunity. In order to capitalize on this opportunity, however, we have to move from politics to diplomacy. We must domesticate the wild idea of the disengagement and make it into part of an overall Israeli plan.