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Since Oslo was signed at the White House on that bright September day in 1993, Israeli politics has lurched leftward. Ariel Sharon's transformation is often considered emblematic of this. Ehud Olmert's own journey, as illustrated by his Herzliya speech this week has been, if anything, more dramatic than Sharon's.
Though Sharon founded the Likud by convincing Menachem Begin to join forces with other parties on the Right, Sharon himself was a disciple of David Ben-Gurion, and was clearly shaped by the gritty, pragmatic tradition of Mapai, his mentor's party. When former Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid recently retired from politics, he revealed that Sharon had offered him the number-two spot on the list of Shlomzion, the party he founded that subsequently merged into the Likud. Neither Sharon nor Sarid, who became bitter rivals, seemed interested in admitting this connection for many years.
Olmert, by contrast, grew up in Betar, the not-one-inch movement inspired by Ze'ev Jabotinsky, father of Revisionist Zionism and Begin's mentor. In 1929 Jabotinsky succinctly described Betar's goal: "The first step, that deed without which there can be no Zionism, or a Jewish state, or a real Jewish nation, is the creation of a Jewish majority in Eretz Yisrael on both sides of the Jordan."
At Herzliya, Olmert not only quoted Jabotinsky, but justified disengagement in Revisionist terms. "The existence of a Jewish majority in the State of Israel cannot be maintained with the continued control over the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip," he declared. Yet in the very next sentence he stated: "We firmly stand by the historic right of the people of Israel to the entire Land of Israel."
The conflict between rights and existence "obligates relinquishing parts of the Land of Israel." Such an act "is not a relinquishing of the Zionist idea, rather the essential realization of the Zionist goal - ensuring the existence of a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel," Olmert said.
Though they generally don't talk about Jewish rights to the land, Olmert's reasoning and adoption of Palestinian statehood as a Zionist goal is essentially what Yossi Beilin and Peace Now have been talking about for years. The only difference between "Right" and "Left" these days is over how to achieve a Palestinian state: unilaterally, or through negotiations. Oddly enough, those who demand nothing in return from the Palestinians in exchange for withdrawals are considered to the right of Labor and the left of Likud, both of which seek to negotiate a quid pro quo.
Olmert has essentially dressed up the Left's core idea, that Israel needs a Palestinian state, in a muscular language of Jewish rights and self-reliance. Standing on Sharon's shoulders, he is completing the collapse of Israeli politics, like a neutron star, into a consensus so powerful and pervasive that everyone from Ben-Gurion to Jabotinsky is sucked into it.
The power of such a consensus, coming after decades of bitter divisions, should not be underestimated. But all three schools - Left, Right and Center - miss the critical component necessary to make it work: a paradigm shift by the United States.
IT IS no secret that disengagement, though billed as unilateral, involved an implicit deal with the international community rather than the Palestinians. It was a way of releasing pressure imposed on Israel. By leaving Gaza, Israel said to the world: "See, you've got to believe us when we say that it is now the Palestinians who are blocking the two-state solution."
So far, this has worked, to a degree. Disengagement got the world's attention, and made Palestinian terrorism less palatable in its eyes; which in turn has contributed to a real, though likely temporary, reduction in terrorism. We have come closer to convincing the international community that when we are attacked it is not our fault.
But it is a mistake to believe that international acquiescence in, and even praise for, disengagement is sufficient. It is not enough to plug disengagement into the existing paradigm of settlements vs. terrorism - which is how the world, including the US, views the conflict. That paradigm must be changed.
Israel needs to explain to the world that just as Iran talks about America and Israel as the "Great Satan" and the "Little Satan," the global terrorist threat is the Great Jihad, while the war to destroy Israel is the Little Jihad. The little jihad went on for years, and the world considered it Israel's problem. Now it has spread, by the same means and ideology, to America, Europe, Asia and even the Arab world.
Both the Palestinians and al-Qaida are careful - aside from those embarrassing 9/11 celebrations in Gaza and quiet cooperation between terrorist groups - to keep the two jihads separate. Both know it is necessary to portray the Palestinian struggle as nationalist, in the sense of Palestine-building rather than Israel-destroying.
When Yasser Arafat launched a war rather than accept the state Israel tabled in 2000 at Camp David, the nationalist mask was removed, revealing the little jihad underneath. Disengagement has exposed the jihad even further.
Yet Olmert did not say in Herzliya - and we do not say to the world - that what is behind the Palestinian refusal to give up terror and build a state is the refusal to give up the little jihad: the dream of a Greater Palestine in Israel's stead. We do not point to the lack of a single Palestinian leader, moderate or radical, terrorist or not, who will say that the Jewish people has any, let alone as much, right to a Jewish state as the Palestinians do to another Arab one. Grudgingly recognizing our existence, like thieves too powerful to dislodge, is not the same as accepting Jewish rights. Yet if almost every Israeli, including our Jabotinsky-quoting acting prime minister, is expected to recognize Palestinian rights, why can't a single Palestinian recognize ours?
What Israel needs most is for the US to say that the problem is not settlements or even terrorism per se, but what terrorism represents - the genocidal manifestation of the Arab refusal to accept Jewish rights. Further, we need the US to say that the little jihad is not just Israel's problem, but the model for and a component of the greater jihad against the West.
This is the paradigm shift the disengagement "process" should be leveraged to achieve, but we can hardly expect others to understand what even our own leaders won't say.
- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11
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