Let's face it. With disengagement from Gaza nearly complete, the anti-disengagement forces have already won.
That's not, of course, how it's being portrayed by the media. There, we see tearful settlers being evicted by tearful soldiers, who are also playing hide-and-seek with thousands of ideologically teenagers until the last of them is pulled from the bushes in time to go back to school at the end of the summer vacation.
In short, disengagement has really triumphed. Except that it hasn't.
The evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip makes absolutely no sense unless it is part of a larger plan leading to a unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank as well.
The necessity for such a double disengagement is predicated on the assumption that no formal, negotiated end to the conflict with the Palestinians is possible on terms acceptable to both sides, and that unless we Jews want to become a minority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, we have to retrench to new borders that we draw ourselves.
A withdrawal from Gaza would be at best a temporary demographic palliative. It would still leave Israel with a population whose 40 percent of Palestinians has twice as many children and a far higher birthrate than its 60 percent of Jews.
This summer's agony was never really about the Gaza Strip. Had the settler movement and its supporters been offered a quid pro quo by the government containing an ironclad pledge that, in return for giving up the Gaza settlements, not one settlement in the West Bank would ever be moved, their leaders would have gladly signed on the dotted line.
But there was and could be no such pledge. The settlers knew that after Gaza would come the West Bank – and their entire protest campaign this summer was designed to convince the Israeli public that a Gaza-style disengagement from the West Bank is not possible.
In this, they have succeeded. They have shown us what it takes to move 8,000 Jewish settlers out of a far corner of the land of Israel having no great strategic value or Jewish historical significance. But does anyone care to imagine what it would take to move 60,000 or 70,000 settlers out of the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria, smack in the middle of the country and scant kilometers from Jerusalem?
Just the physical logistics of it would be mind-boggling. Although the Gaza Strip was easily isolable, thousands of protesters have slipped through the army's cordon. Even with its security fence, this is not true of the West Bank. An attempted evacuation of settlements from it could easily result in tens of thousands of protesters flowing to any one of them. The entire Israeli army couldn't handle this.
In a word, it's not going to happen. The settlers can wipe the tears from their eyes and start smiling.
In return for our acknowledgment of their triumph, however, the settler movement and its supporters owe us an explanation. Exactly where do we go from here?
It better be a good explanation, too. And it better not include any of the following:
1. There's no need to rack our brains, because the Messiah will soon show up to solve our problems.
2. We only have to beat the stuffing out of the Palestinians a bit harder and longer for them to come to their senses and beg to go back to being our hewers of wood and drawers of water.
3. It doesn't matter what we do, because the United States will always support us.
4. The demographic problem is just a bogeyman. As soon as we reorganize the Ministry of Absorption, send the right emissaries to the Diaspora and spruce up this country a bit, millions of Jews will be standing in line to immigrate.
5. Yes, it will take a miracle to save us, but why worry? The creation of Israel has been one big miracle, so it's perfectly reasonable to expect more of the same.
Though such arguments sound like caricatures, they're the ones the anti-disengagement camp has been uttering.
Yet for now, they have won. A second disengagement from the West Bank is a dead duck, at least for the foreseeable future, and by the time the foreseeable future is gone, the only politician in Israel capable of carrying out such a step, Ariel Sharon, will be long gone, too.
Hillel Halkin is an author and translator.