This, perhaps, is the primary reason the Labor Party must enter the government at any price: to keep a close watch on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon so that he does not follow the familiar yearnings of his heart from years gone by and fill the West Bank with new settlements while all the attention is focused on the evacuation of the Gaza Strip.

These words are being written in the wake of the state's reply to the community of Nirit's petition to the High Court of Justice against the establishment of a new Jewish settlement with 1,200 housing units to be called Nof Hasharon, adjacent to Nirit but on the other side of the Green Line, in the West Bank. In his reply to the High Court of Justice, the representative of the State Prosecutor's office said the road map that has been approved by the government, whereby it has undertaken not to set up any new settlements in the territories, does not legally obligate the state.

This amazing legal hairsplitting shows a trend of thought in Sharon's government that portends ill. It is untenable that it will demand of the Palestinians that they stick to their commitment under the road map to fight terror while ignoring its own commitment not to establish settlements.

The wall-to-wall support that Ariel Sharon has been enjoying recently is based on his decision to turn over a new leaf in the diplomatic arena. This is not unconditional support. The suspicions regarding Sharon still exist and have often been expressed on this page. There is still the possibility that the disengagement from Gaza is nothing but a maneuver aimed at strengthening the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The recent silence of the settler leadership makes one wonder whether they have been given promises about which the public does not know.

This feeling is reinforced upon reading the follow-up reports by Peace Now and other organizations to the effect that in Samaria, the Etzion bloc and Ma'aleh Adumim, there is energetic ground-breaking work going on in an attempt to establish new facts on the ground. The suspicion is that the government is trying to draw up a new map strewn with Jewish settlement points before the Americans come to the region to draw their own map of the settlements. In addition to this, about 100 outposts that were slated to be evacuated long ago are thriving undisturbed, have already been hooked up to water and electricity infrastructures and are continuing to expand.

It is to be hoped that the Labor Party, upon joining the government, will not nurture any mistaken illusions about Sharon's new path and will not hesitate to insist upon the total cessation of all investments in new Jewish settlements, or the expansion of existing ones, even if this leads to a crisis and early elections. The disengagement from the Gaza Strip has to be only a first stage in a comprehensive peace plan that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The decision by the Knesset Finance Committee this week to transfer NIS 500,000 to tourism projects in settlements in the territories is reasonable if it applies to work that has already been completed; however, any future investment in the development of settlements and their surroundings is unacceptable. This must be the first and most important provision in the coalition agreement with the Labor Party.

Anyone who has been following the settlement project since its inception knows that most of it has come about using the method of promises are one thing, winks are another thing and construction is quite another, which is not unfamiliar to Sharon. The time has come to put an end to this. The Jewish settlements are the main obstacle today to an agreement with the Palestinians. To this historical injustice, not one further settlement should be added.