No move is more typical of Sharon government policy (or lack thereof) than the decision to allow a small group of Palestinian police to carry pistols. Formally, it means that Israel is cooperating with an organization that supports terror - no more and no less. A previous cabinet decision from December 2001 stated that "the Palestinian Authority is an entity that supports terror and it is to be acted against accordingly." This was to be the case until "it fulfills its obligations to prevent and stop terror, to punish terrorists and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure." The new decision means one of two things: Either the PA has begun to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, or the government is lending a hand to permitting members of an organization that supports terror to carry weapons openly.

There is a third possibility. After some four years of intifada, the prime minister understands that the alternative even to a problematic and corrupt central Palestinian government is not an honest and well-organized central Palestinian government. The decision to change orders for opening fire on armed Palestinian police hints at the fact that policy-makers have begun to realistically process reports from the field stating that from the ashes of the PA headed by Yasser Arafat, a coalition of criminals in the name of Allah and other lawbreakers has begun to rise. According to these reports, instead of democratization, a few kilometers from Kfar Sava, there is "anarchization." Those in the know believe that power struggles between the various factions, especially between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, will worsen after Israel withdraws from Gaza. The residents of Sderot already know that fences do not promise a good night's sleep.

The danger of anarchy worries the PA leadership as well. According to reports issuing from British Intelligence sources in Ramallah, the Palestinians have arrested a number of terrorists in recent months who were on their way to suicide-bomb attacks in Israel. The reports, which have been brought to Sharon's attention, say that wanted men have been arrested and hundreds of kilograms of explosives have been destroyed. But the PA will need more than pistols to destroy the Qassam factories.

To once again enlist popular support for reconciliation and determined confrontation with extremists, the PA must be given real achievements. This is not difficult. For example, instead of handing Hamas zealots the "glory" of Israel's departure from the Gaza Strip and getting nothing in return, disengagement could be accomplished by open cooperation with the PA leadership. Instead of turning the evacuation of the outposts into a means of strengthening voter confidence in President George Bush, why not take advantage of the move to strengthen Palestinian confidence in Arafat?

Israel has a special interest, now perhaps more than ever, in rehabilitating Arafat. True, he is unreliable, dishonest and manipulative, and like Shimon Peres said, he is even a little crazy. But Arafat is the only glue now preventing Palestinian society from completely disintegrating into warring tribes.

How many times must it be clarified that without Arafat's blessing, Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub are more or less equivalent to Shaul Mofaz and Silvan Shalom without Sharon? How long must we wait until Sharon gets used to the idea that Arafat, like any politician, will not give up the government without getting anything in return? If there is not enough evidence against him, he should be released from the Muqata jail and spoken with.

"The simplest thing would be to go on like this," Justice Minister Yosef Lapid preached to his Shinui colleagues. "There are moments when leaders have to make tough decisions," Lapid went on, citing the tough decision De Gaulle had to make on Algeria. It is hard to believe that the important Israeli leader disturbed the eternal rest of the French general merely to debate the appointment of Rabbi Avraham Ravitz as deputy housing minister.