When I served as foreign press spokesman for the Yesha Council, the question journalists asked me most often was: "How can you represent the settlers (their term, not mine) when you don't even live in the West Bank (ditto) or Gaza?" Wasn't I a hypocrite living in "west" Jerusalem while representing 200,000 Jews living in post-1967 Israel?
I told them that not only was I not a hypocrite because I lived in Jerusalem, but that the ideal spokesman for the Jews of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) would actually be someone from the greater Tel Aviv area. Only such a person - who understood the importance of establishing and maintaining Jewish communities on the other side of the Green Line - could genuinely make the case for Yesha.
I'm not talking about the religious or historical importance of Yesha for the Jewish people, but about the importance, purely from a security perspective, of keeping Judea and Samaria under Israeli military as well as civilian control.
There are several columnists (including the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick and Sarah Honig) who, though they don't live in the West Bank, have had the courage to disclose and analyze the new realities of life in post-disengagement Israel, in which we've seen the first Katyusha rocket landing in the Western Negev, Kassam rockets on Ashkelon's doorstep, and a reinvigorated Arab terror apparatus and Hamas-led PA.
Remember: It was only a matter of time before the PLO was given worldwide legitimacy. The same will hold, slowly but surely, for Hamas.
WHAT THE Yesha Council needs to do in order to prevent a further withdrawal, and save the way of life of its constituents, is to explain the dangers of a Judea and Samaria withdrawal to the proverbial secular Tel Aviv caf -goer - the very Israeli who most likely did not vote for an anti-withdrawal party in the recent election.
It needs to be made crystal-clear that if an Israeli presence is removed from the mountains overlooking the coastal plain, cities like Kfar Saba and Ra'anana will become new Sderots. This was Yesha's failure leading up to the disengagement; it sent volunteers door-to-door preaching ideology, but not practicality.
If hundreds, or thousands, of Tel-Aviv-area Israelis could be persuaded to lobby MKs who are on the fence in regard to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's "convergence" plan not to risk their well-being by abandoning territory - that could potentially make a huge difference.
Yes, the security fence may prevent a large number of suicide bombings, but only the IDF's physical presence can halt the missile attacks. A constant presence is needed, one whose aims include wiping out the terrorist infrastructure - a la Operation Defensive Shield - and not just a fence serving as a sort of contraception device when it is "abstinence" that should be preached.
Some argue that with the IDF planning to remain in the areas slated for removal there is no need to maintain communities there. But just as left-wing Israelis and the world community pressured Israel to withdraw from Lebanon, the pressure will probably be even greater for the military to withdraw from Palestinian-controlled areas. It will be only a matter of time before the terrorists have free rein, the rockets start flying, and Israelis in the center of the country start heading daily to the shelters.
THE TASK ahead for Yesha and the Right in general will not be easy. My experiences at the council taught me that in some circles, both in Israel and abroad, it is the "settlers" that are viewed as the true obstacles to peace, loathed even as much, or more, than Arab suicide bombers.
So never mind that the PLO was formed in 1964 with the goal of wiping Israel off the map, before any "settlement," or the West Bank as we now know it, existed. Neither historical facts, nor (regrettably) God's biblical promises to the Jewish people are relevant to a large sector of the Israeli public. What does matter is fear - fear based on the realities of today's strategic situation.
So Yesha's message must be that any further withdrawal from the "West Bank" will endanger metropolitan Tel Aviv. Only that line of argument can change the minds of those who would otherwise have no compunction about seeing more Jewish communities uprooted.
The writer, a former spokesman for the Yesha Council, lives in Jerusalem.