Give a map to a traveler who is in a hostile environment, trying to find his way through shifting sands, and it isn't likely to be of much use to him. If, in addition, he is traversing earthquake country, he might as well throw the map away. Under such circumstances, he should concentrate on staying alive and using his common sense.

Unfortunately, the Middle East now resembles an area of shifting sands, with an occasional earthquake, more than an area of fixed topography in which a road map might come in handy.

Israelis remember another road map, drawn up at Oslo a few years ago, designating routes, milestones and dates of arrival. Its architects received the Nobel Peace Prize for that masterpiece but it has ended up in history's dustbin. It was overtaken by shifting sands and local earthquakes before it could become a useful navigational aid.

It is difficult to blame Israelis if some of the promoters of the latest road map arouse a certain degree of suspicion regarding their intentions and good judgment. The reference is, of course, to three in the quartet: the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.

The abject behavior of the two leading members of the European Union - France and Germany - in the months leading up to the U.S. operation in Iraq will not be quickly forgotten. The mixture of narrow domestic political interests and just plain poor judgment hardly qualifies them as Middle East peacemakers. Russia's Putin followed in their footsteps for reasons best known to himself and Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, also did not distinguish himself during the past few months.

All of them have their own ax to grind and seem to believe that imposing a road map on Israel will permit them to stage a comeback to international respectability. That kind of a road map we certainly do not need.

The fact is, the region is unstable and, therefore, unpredictable. Will Yasser Arafat control his newly anointed Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas or will Abbas succeed in breaking loose from Arafat's control? Are Abbas and his security aide, Mohammed Dahlan, intent on taking on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al Aqsa Brigades, and are they capable of overpowering them? One thing is sure: There will be no progress toward stability and peace until Palestinian terrorism ends.

During the past year, the Israel Defense Forces has proven it is capable of bringing about a very substantial reduction in acts of terrorism. Letting the Palestinians complete the job may at first sight seem like an attractive option, until we remember that this has been tried before with disastrous results. Now that the IDF is close to scoring a decisive victory over Palestinian terror, we should not permit defeat to be pulled from the jaws of victory.

Those who do not delude themselves into thinking that a detailed future can be mapped out for the Middle East might try to gaze over the horizon and examine some of the possible alternatives. A Palestinian state is not the only alternative, and may not even be the best for Israelis and Palestinians alike. For Israelis, it raises the fear of a terrorist state on Israel's doorstep, a springboard for acts of violence against Israel's civilian population. For Palestinians, it may mean a continuation of the disasters that Arafat's terror campaign has foisted on them these past few years.

Although the thought may cause heartburn in Amman, it should be remembered that Jordan is a Palestinian state in everything but name; that Judea and Samaria were annexed by Jordan after 1948 and remained an integral part of Jordan until the Six-Day War; and that Jordanian citizenship was bestowed on the population there.

Establishing a second Palestinian state may not be the only alternative regional future. At present, there is justified concern that the inclusion of additional Palestinians in Jordan might destabilize the Hashemite regime, which has been determined and effective in stamping out terrorism and maintaining peaceful relations with Israel. But that risk may decrease in time. It would certainly be easier to resolve some of the outstanding problems at issue between Israel and the Palestinians, such as border location and the status of Jerusalem, if Jordan were to be the partner for negotiations.

That does not appear on the road map being marketed at present, but may in time be more constructive and realistic.