By Michael Freund

As the Palestinian violence against Israel enters its sixth month, one would have expected that the proponents of Oslo might finally have come to terms with its indisputable collapse. After all, when one's peace partner responds to a generous series of concessions with lethal gunfire and bus bombings, it is a fairly reliable indicator that the peace process has come to an end.

But Oslo's enthusiasts continue to dream, their slumber undisturbed by the bullets whizzing all around them. Like the sorcerer's apprentice in Goethe's 18th-century poem "Der Zauberlerling" (later popularized in Walt Disney's film Fantasia), they have unleashed forces that proved to be dangerous and uncontrollable. Unlike Disney's protagonist, however, they seem stubbornly unaware of what they have wrought.

And so, as if nothing had happened since last September, Labor's Yossi Beilin can assert in all seriousness that, "I do not buy the thesis that the clearly defined Palestinian desire - that they are not ready to reach an agreement with us - has been revealed" (Yediot Aharonot, March 2).

So, too, Ran Cohen of Meretz, who now proposes that the way out of the current violence is for Israel to withdraw from Gaza completely and uproot the thousands of Jews living there in what he terms "The Gaza Strip First" plan (Yediot Aharonot, March 5).

Prior to the signing of Oslo, such statements might have been seen as bold or even visionary, presenting a new course for solving the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But after eight years of Israeli withdrawals and Palestinian terror, they can only be looked upon with pity, for they represent the delusions of men unwilling to accept reality and admit the error of their ways.

The implementation of Oslo began with "Gaza first," and we see all around us what that has led to. But Ran Cohen and friends are undeterred, insisting we compound the first mistake by repeating it. What they fail to comprehend is that you do not solve problems by running away from them, particularly when the problem in question is armed and dangerous.

Indeed, the illusions prevailing among some members of the peace camp can, at times, be chilling. Just one day after the suicide bombing in Netanya this week that killed three Israelis and injured 80, peace activist Uri Avnery wrote, "Opposite us stands a nation that is fighting for its freedom. Not gangs. Not terrorism. A nation united with Arafat as its symbol and leader" (Ma'ariv, March 5).

Equally misguided are those with the peculiar tendency to criticize Israel for trying to defend itself from attack. Thus, for example, columnist Gideon Levy (Ha'aretz, March 4) describes Israel's policy of sealing the territories to prevent terrorists from slipping through as an "atrocity" and the "mass jailing of an entire people, with its monstrously inhuman dimension."

It is tempting to dismiss such views as inconsequential, but the fact that they are held by some of Israel's leading politicians and journalists means that their power should not be underestimated. For it was similar thinking that brought Israel terribly close, just a few months ago, to surrendering half of its capital to those now firing mortar rounds at Jewish homes.

Fantasy is often the last refuge of those unable to deal with reality, particularly one that they are responsible for having created. But a country such as Israel, in a region such as the Middle East, cannot afford to daydream. Reality may not always be to one's liking, but it can not be ignored in formulating policy.

In Disney's Fantasia, it was the sorcerer's sudden appearance on the scene, and his reversal of the spell cast by his apprentice, that saved the day. One can only hope that Ariel Sharon's rise to power will likewise succeed in helping Israel to overcome the spell of Oslo, and dispel its illusions before it is too late.

The writer served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.

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