The term "Muqata" has long ceased to designate that amputated structure in Ramallah where the ghostly Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat lives. "Muqata" is already a metaphor for an existential state. For example: Yesterday we were free men, young bachelors will say before their marriage, and now we are in the Muqata. Or, the Likud Party has put Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into a Muqata - that is, it has shackled him. It is even possible to illustrate the new use of the term: Sharon in Metzudat Ze'ev, Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, as all around him, is besieged like the original Muqata.

Does putting someone in "the Muqata" also mean making the person irrelevant?

Apparently this would be stretching the concept too far, but it is worth checking. The clearest example is Arafat, who with being confined in the Muqata became irrelevant. The reason for this is that no one among the "relevant voices" wants to talk to him any more, neither Sharon nor United States President George W. Bush. Relevance requires recognition of the ability or the power to influence. Arafat has apparently lost them both. He can continue to make speeches, to explain, to whine and to roar - but he no longer exists. His long speech last Wednesday immediately elicited a scornful reaction. In Haaretz it appeared only on page 6 and not at the top of the page. That is, Arafat, too, has become a metaphor for irrelevance.

It is possible that last week Sharon also entered the Muqata of the Likud and he too is beginning to become a metaphor for irrelevance. After all, if a prime minister like him does not manage to convince his party to support him, neither with respect to the disengagement plan nor about bringing the Labor Party into the coalition, that is neither with respect to the new ideology nor to the tactic aimed a accomplishing it, then perhaps, as is said of someone in a different Muqata, "He no longer controls the street."

Why does Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have to talk with an Israeli leader who may be incapable of providing the goods? Why do the Palestinians need to make an effort if it does not look as though on the Israeli side there is a leader who can make promises and keep them? And why do Sharon's supporters need to continue to be in control of the Likud, or do his opponents need to continue seeing him as the leader of their party? Let them establish a new party or get rid of the irrelevant leader.

And perhaps the opposition, the Labor Party, can do something? It, too, has a Muqata, which is called the unity government. This party has forgotten why it entered the previous unity government and certainly it is not at all successful at recalling the shackles that Sharon put on party chairman Shimon Peres: Talk to Arafat? "Only about a cease-fire; Peres has only a limited mandate," said Sharon exactly three years ago.

When on both sides of the conflict there are leaders who look irrelevant, this is when a determined, courageous and very inventive mediator can do something. This could have been George Bush's opportunity to act, to invite, to threaten and to pressure. But he too is mired in his own Muqata - elections, Iraq, the economy. At the head of the only major power in the world, the one that within a year and a half invaded two countries and the one that dictates culture and technology to the entire world, is a leader who at this time cannot throw an empty can over a bare hill. This is because when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in an election year, while the U.S. is still entangled in the Iraqi thicket, Bush is irrelevant. With one difference from his two colleagues: Bush can decide when he wants to be relevant.

The three sitting ducks are quacking away in their Muqatas. None of them has the political ability to get a peace plan moving or even implement plans he has proposed: Bush has forgotten all about the road map, Arafat has forgotten about the reforms and Sharon is losing clients for his disengagement. No wonder, then, that in the Jewish settlements in the territories they are continuing to build, the greenhouse owners in the Gaza Strip are investing more than ever and from afar the Tenet plan and the Mitchell recommendations can be heard calling to the disengagement plan to join them in the nice warm repository of irrelevant documents.