Israel has lines to draw &mdash ideological and territorial

As he lay comatose on the seventh floor of Hadassah University Hospital this week, Ariel Sharon’s exhortation to Israeli Jews of the late 1990s, to “grab the hilltops” of Judea and Samaria, came back to haunt us all.

Sharon was foreign minister in the government of Benjamin Netanyahu when he called on the public to stake a physical claim to the West Bank high spots so that no future government could relinquish them.

It is right and proper, and in fact fundamental to our democracy, for our government to insist on the rule of law — and, as it applies in this case, on the consequent evacuation of illegal settlement housing once all legal procedures have been exhausted. And it is right and proper and fundamental, too, for that government to bitterly bewail and urge no repetition of the violence that the enforcement of those evacuation orders triggered at Amona on Feb. 1.

But it’s more than a little disingenuous, more than a little hypocritical, to come over all law-abiding now, when it was your own political figurehead who encouraged the establishment of this and dozens of other illegal outposts in the first place.

Disingenuous, hypocritical, and without a doubt somewhat confusing as well, for the evacuees in question. At “illegal” Amona, and even more so at all the “legal” settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, it’s been a case of the government encouraging its citizens to build their homes and raise their families there one minute — openly in the case of Gaza and northern Samaria, with the broadest of winks in the case of the illegal outposts — only to turn against them the next.

The scenes at Amona were appalling on so many levels.

For one thing, they drew us to the very brink of the unthinkable reality, of Jews killing Jews, which we thought we had managed to avoid after last summer’s disengagement.

As it was, Amona was a self-imposed terror attack — with all the accompanying horrors to which we have become so tragically accustomed: the screaming, bloodied faces of the victims, the mounting toll of the injured, the convoys of ambulances ferrying the casualties to hospital emergency rooms straining to treat the massive influx, the hour-by-hour reports on the condition of the wounded.

As it was, we have Israelis badly hurt. But a building block dropped a few inches one way or another, one heavier thwack with a baton, and Wednesday’s Amona bloodshed would have been followed by Thursday’s funerals.

For another thing, in a reversal of what is supposed to be the course of intelligent human behavior, lessons learned and adhered to in the course of the summer’s withdrawal were evidently unlearned in the months since. Where was the patience and forbearance so widely demonstrated by the security forces deployed in Gaza and northern Samaria? And where

at Amona was the discipline and understanding of the limits of protest so broadly maintained by the settlers and their supporters during disengagement?

Precisely a week earlier, the Palestinian public had voted in a parliamentary leadership insistently committed to our destruction. Now, even as we try to make plain to the international community the intolerability of such a regime, we ourselves have set about achieving its aims, ripping ourselves apart.

If one crumb of comfort in the Palestinian vote was the clarity of the Hamas victory, the impossibility now of the Islamists’ more subtly advancing their agenda as a minor Palestinian Authority player, then perhaps a crumb of comfort for us lies in the proximity of our general elections and the hope they offer for the emergence of a demonstrable, clearly defined popular will.

Often in recent years we have bemoaned the too frequent dissolution of parliament as this or that coalition fell apart and triggered yet another premature return to the polling booths. This time, though, a new opportunity for the public to have its say seems like a blessing. And the clearer the resulting mandate to govern, the better.

Amona underlined that Israel dare not vacillate any longer. We have stark choices to make about the lands we want to hold, the values we most cherish, the very nature of the Israel we seek to sustain. We have lines to draw — ideological and territorial. And our political choices less than two months from now for achieving those aims, though still less clear than we would wish, are nonetheless starker than they have been in the past.

Elections not only give us the opportunity to make our voices heard. If the results are clear-cut, they deny the losers the potential to raise credible claims that the government is failing to honor the will of the people. In the run-up to disengagement, that charge against the Sharon government was a potent focus of bitterness and alienation. Amona was disaffection redoubled, alienation on a smaller but more strident scale.

An Islamic terror group bent on persuading its supporters that God mandates the elimination of our sovereign Jewish state, Hamas is now newly empowered to deepen the reservoir of adherence.

What we need, desperately, is a national consensus on how best to combat that godless ideology and its murderous consequences. Hopefully, March’s elections will reflect the emergence of such a consensus. And hopefully, too, those Israelis outside it will accept that the people have spoken.

Israel has demonstrated that it can withstand Hamas terrorism. Jewish history has demonstrated that we cannot long survive vicious internal dissent.

David Horovitz is editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, where this column previously appeared.