Public opinion in a democracy is a volatile commodity. That's what opponents of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to disengage from Gaza and dismantle Jewish settlements are learning in the wake of some bad decisions by protesters.
The spectacle of extremists blocking traffic or even seeking to disable vehicles undermined the sympathy of Israelis for the settlers' cause. The incident in which other extremists who stoned a Palestinian in Gaza further disgusted the Israeli public. The result is that support for the Gaza plan seems to be stabilizing. That's a remarkable change from the past few months, when Sharon appeared to be losing ground.
The downward trend in Sharon's polling was a result of the prime minister's high-handed approach to his own party, the continuing failure of the Palestinian Authority to suppress terror groups such as Hamas and the signals from Washington that appeared to undermine the notion that the Bush administration would reward Israel for making such a sacrifice. But mainstream Israelis want no part of a violent protest movement that acts as if their goal is to topple a democratically elected government.
The coming weeks will be painful for Israel. The spectacle of Jews being evicted from Gaza will be difficult for many to watch. As will be any violence directed at Israeli soldiers obeying legal orders from the government to effect the evacuation. Settlement-movement leaders have issued calls for calm and nonviolent dissent. We hope their words will be heeded.
As much as the vast majority of anti-Sharon Israelis do not deserve to be tainted by the actions of a few, the precedent of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin still hovers over the country. The need to avoid civil war is paramount. We support Prime Minister Sharon's plan, and pray that it is a measure that ultimately strengthens Israel. But above all, we call upon all Jews to remember that the one thing that cannot be allowed to happen is the spilling of Jewish blood in the name of a policy disagreement.