The mistake made by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who failed to evacuate the radical elements from the Jewish settlement in Hebron, conveyed a message of unpunished lawlessness, which was well understood.
Rabin himself fell victim a year and a half later to the same lawless fanaticism. His haters stuck knives in pictures of the prime minister in SS uniform before actually murdering him. And now, the "hate wedding" guests stuck knives in the pictures of Palestinian victims after the actual murder.
Since the ideological inciters who guided the murderers were not prosecuted after the murders committed by Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, there is no reason why they and their followers shouldn't get away with it now either. The Shin Bet will settle for exposing the fanatic underground, the State Prosecutor's Office will settle for prosecuting a few youngsters, Religious Zionism will settle for another futile self-examination, and the public opinion will settle for loud and hollow condemnations. What happened before will happen again. The power of radicalism will grow stronger.
This weak conduct has an explanation: It's the political fear of the settlers - although the overwhelming majority of them condemn the radicalism. And so, Israel has created the famous political science phenomenon of a stubborn and determined minority which succeeds in achieving its goals by silencing, first of all its close surroundings and then its far surroundings, and finally the entire political system, until it gives in to its whims.
The unwillingness to deal with "our own" bigotry has been shared by all Israeli prime ministers throughout the generations. Only one prime minister dared to wage an open battle against the settlement act and ideology. His name was Ariel Sharon.
Sharon's address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2005 hangs on the main wall of my room at the Yedioth Ahronoth building. I enlarged and framed the speech as a modest gesture to a statesman who defeated not only the second intifada and his own outlook, which he suckled along with his mother's milk and promised to fulfill, but also the Jewish minority group which had been considered undefeatable until then: The hardcore of the settlers.
When Sharon left to address the UN, while he was still prime minister of a Likud government, commentators wrote that he would deliver statements that would please members of his party's central Committee. But Sharon did the exact opposite. In his speech, he gave the Likud a final divorce, reached out to the Palestinians, and more than implied his intention to carry out further unilateral moves, like he did in Gaza. Because separating from the Palestinians, "the disengagement," as he called it, was the necessary thing for us as a nation, as a people and as a Zionist Jewish state.
The Kadima party was founded shortly after that speech, but Sharon became ill and did not get to lead it to the elections in March 2006 and later in February 2009. Nonetheless, the Kadima led by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni won 28-29 seats in two consecutive Knessets, and was the biggest party in the Israeli parliament. And so we got proof that the moderate political right, which is not afraid to confront the most radical settlers, even forcibly, impose the majority's opinion on them and evacuate them, is capable of making a major change in Israel. A huge change.
Sharon hasn't had any political successors so far; his legacy has been wasted. But perhaps I am being too pessimistic. Perhaps the Center and moderate Right will realize this time that they have been wrong, both ideologically and practically, and return to the Sharon legacy. Perhaps they will stop looking fearfully at those who are shouting and threatening on their right side and start confronting them, as required from a national-liberal movement seeking to save the homeland.
And the Left? It won't shake off the dark magic of populism and will keep hesitating and wriggling when it comes to national-political issues that are critical to our life. We will soon see it organize another loud protest against… Against what? Against anything, just not against the radical settlement ideology. A representative of the latter may even be invited to speak at the protest (that has happened before), based on a shared platform of course.