Little more than eight years ago, the entire world focused its attention on Yad Eliahu stadium to hear whether Rabbi Eliezer Schach, the spiritual leader of Degel Hatorah, would cast his party's lot with Shimon Peres and bring down the government of Yitzhak Shamir.
This paper, then firmly aligned with Labor, expressed confidence on the eve of Schach's speech that his primary consideration would be 'the physical survival of Jews and the prevention of battlefield casualties.' And indeed a close reading of Schach's public statements gave the Left much cause for disappointment when he opted against allying with Labor.
In 1978, he expressly conditioned his continued support of the first Begin government on its willingness to consider territorial compromise. He reiterated frequently that the preservation of Jewish life takes precedence over all other considerations.
To those who opposed signing a peace treaty under any conditions, he replied, 'To me this is incomprehensible. Every reasonable person understands that it is better that one's bread be a little poorer if one can enjoy it in peace. Even if by our efforts we can spare even one life would it not be worthwhile? Every Jewish life is a complete world!
'Rejecting all attempts at negotiation, even at the risk of another war, reveals a callousness that is appalling, and remote from the spirit of Torah,' he wrote.
How, then, can we understand recent polls that show the chareidi population to be the segment of the Israeli population most skeptical of the Oslo process - even more so than the national religious population? Has the haredi community abandoned its traditional emphasis on the preservation of Jewish life as the ultimate desideratum?
The haredi work has not abandoned its traditional concern with the preservation of Jewish life as a supreme value. Rather it has concluded that those who are estranged from or contemptuous of their religion do not share that concern.
Those who have lost all attachment to the Jewish religion, or any sense of the Jewish people as inheritors of a unique world-historical mission, will of necessity lose their connection to their fellow Jews. Any claim of a unique value to Jewish life (while never forgetting that all human beings are created in the divine image) is inherently suspect, even racist in their eyes.
As the Left's contempt for Judaism has become increasingly shrill, so has the haredi world's suspicion of the Left grown. Nor did the haredim have to look far for evidence of the Left's diminished sense of connection to other Jews.
On a 1994 visit to America, Meretz's Dedi Zucker described as 'deluded" anyone who thought there could be peace without Arab sovereignty over part of Jerusalem. When a questioner asked whether a similar argument could not be made for maintaining Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria with their large Jewish populations and the presence of many Jewish holy sites, Zucker insisted that the entirety of Judea and Samaria must be under Arab rule.
His interlocutor then asked why he devoted all his energies to peace with the Arabs and none to peace with his fellow Jews. His reply, as reported in Yediot Aharonot: 'Look, the bottom line is I don't want peace with those people; I would rather live with Arabs than live with those Jews."
Zucker only made explicit what was perhaps unconscious in others. When Yitzhak Rabin referred to himself as prime minister of 98 percent of the population, pointedly excluding those living in Judea and Samaria, many heard an ominous hint that the lives of the remaining two percent were somehow not that important.
Those fears grew deeper as the deaths of hundreds of Jews at the hands of terrorists in the aftermath of Oslo were etherealized away as 'sacrifices for peace,' and government ministers stopped attending the funerals of terrorist victims. How the deaths of Jews brought us closer to peace was left unclear.
Left-wing politics has come to be driven principally by its self-styled sainthood and desire to look into the mirror in the hopes of hearing, 'You are the most morally superior of them all.'
In its heart of hearts, much of the Left believes that we stole the land from the Arabs and are therefore morally bound to content ourselves with the smallest possible part of the land. And that moral imperative takes precedence over security considerations.
Nothing must be allowed to stand in the way of 'peace" - not even security. Demands for Palestinian compliance with previous commitments - reduction of paramilitary forces, confiscation of privately held weapons, extradition of known terrorists, and an end for the calls of jihad by Palestinian officials from Yasser Arafat on down - are dismissed by much of the Left as irrelevant, not worth worrying about.
When the government nevertheless insists that compliance on these points is the most credible evidence as to whether peace is possible, it is accused of bad faith and trying to scuttle the process.
There remains, however, a vast gulf between the 'hard-line" attitudes of haredim and those of much of the national religious world. Haredim doubt, as a practical matter, that the Oslo can lead to peace or increased security for the Jews of Israel. They do not reject on theological grounds relinquishing Israeli sovereignty over any part of the land promised to the Patriarchs.
Haredim do not believe that we can do whatever we want, blithely ignoring any possible American response, any more than Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai believed that the military might of Rome could be ignored prior to the destruction of the Temple.
They opposed Oslo from its inception precisely because they recognized that once started, Oslo would create a momentum of its own, in which Israel would find itself continually cast as the villain in the court of world opinion, regardless of Palestinian compliance.
But haredim fully understand the dilemmas which Binyamin Netanyahu inherited and will not threaten his government as long as they are convinced that Netanyahu will do a better job of protecting Jewish life than the alternatives.
In that the haredim have remained consistent and right.