WASHINGTON -- The world has noted -- though it will not credit, and will soon forget -- those deeply moving scenes of the Israeli evacuation of Gaza: the discipline and self-control of the Israeli army; the cohesion of a society torn over policy but determined to follow the dictates of democracy; and the deep, abiding attachment of Israelis to every inch of soil they have reclaimed from sand and swamp.
But there was one detail of the evacuation that went little noticed: the manner of the evacuation of the great menorah from the last synagogue of the last settlement to be evacuated, Netzarim. This menorah is not the nine-branched Hanukkah thingie that shows up on an equal-time basis by the shopping-mall reindeer display at Christmas time. It is the seven-branched candelabra -- like the one that was in the ancient temple in Jerusalem and is today the official seal of the state of Israel.
The Gaza menorah was carried off in a very remarkable and significant way, perched on a horizontal rod borne on the shoulders of men walking one behind the other.
Seen in profile, that image has a shocking familiarity. If you go to the eastern entrance of the Roman forum today, you will see the huge triumphal Arch of Titus erected in A.D. 81 to commemorate the conquest of the Jews and the destruction of the Jewish state -- Judea -- in A.D. 70. One of the friezes shows the seven-branched menorah they were carrying out of the temple in Jerusalem -- as booty and symbol of the conquest of Judea -- perched on a long horizontal staff borne by Roman soldiers walking one behind the other.
No one steeped in Jewish history could fail to see the intended resemblance. The intended message was that the Gaza evacuation was a replay of the Roman conquest -- made all the more cruel and ironic because this time it was carried out by fellow Jews.
In my view, the religious messianists who are saying this are totally wrong in their strategic assessment. Gaza was a necessary retreat in order to hold higher, more defensible and more critical ground elsewhere.
Nonetheless, the parallel images carried an unintended truth. It is not the Gaza withdrawal itself, but what follows that could lead to another and final extinction of Jewish independence, this time not just for 2,000 years but forever.
What follows is the world saying, almost in unison, that the Gaza evacuation is just the beginning of a total Israeli retreat, one Dunkirk to be followed by many more. What follows is Condoleezza Rice declaring that ``it cannot be Gaza only,'' a thrilling encouragement to the Palestinians jeering the Israeli withdrawal with chants of ``Gaza today, Jerusalem tomorrow.''
Is this what the Bush administration wants? More unilateral concessions to an implacable enemy whose ``moderate'' leader, Mahmoud Abbas, declares that ``we will not rest until they leave from all our land'' -- when Palestinian maps show ``our land'' as nothing less than all of British Palestine with Israel totally eradicated?
This is a prescription for Israel's suicide. Or rather murder, because the Israelis are not prepared to march blindly into further unrequited concessions. The final concession will be getting into boats and sailing back to where? Poland?
In his policy-setting Rose Garden speech of June 2002, President Bush explicitly endorsed a Palestinian state and said that to achieve it, the next step was up to the Palestinians. Since then the only thing the Palestinians have done is to bury Yasser Arafat, an act of reverence but not exactly initiative.
In the interim, the Israelis have withdrawn from Gaza, destroyed four West Bank settlements to create geographic contiguity for Palestinian territory in the northern West Bank, and once again repeated their support of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian response has been Katyusha rockets into Sderot, promises of renewed terrorism and chants for total victory.
The Arabs are a great people. They have 21 states stretching from the Atlantic to the frontier of Persia. They will soon have a 22nd state called Palestine. The only question is whether its establishment will be on the grave of the world's only Jewish state.
What is at stake is whether the world, led by the United States, will demand Arab acceptance of that single Jewish state, or whether the United States will continue to push Israel from one concession to another until one day another arch is erected, this time in Jerusalem itself, commemorating the destruction of history's third and last Jewish commonwealth.