The sense that each individual soldier in the field could end the partial lull between the Palestinian Authority and Israel - a lull that has created a positive atmosphere between the parties and enabled talks aimed at arranging a meeting between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) - is no illusion.

Regrettably, it seems that uncontrolled outbursts of shooting are not confined to the Palestinian side: There have been efforts on the Israeli side, as well, to continue military operations as usual - and not only against "ticking bombs" - despite all the declarations about a cease-fire and about giving the Palestinian leadership a chance to assert control over the violence and stop it.

The incident in Qalqilyah on Wednesday - in which an unarmed Hamas member was shot and killed by an undercover Border Police unit that was trying to arrest him, and two other Palestinians, whom the Israel Defense Forces defined as the Hamas man's accomplices, were wounded - is a perfect example of a routine operation that is liable to develop into a harmful and unnecessary incident. Such operations are carried out every day and every night.

Even worse was the decision by soldiers at an outpost in the Gaza Strip to return random fire at Dir al-Balah, 300 meters away. They hit a girl, who was killed instantly. The soldiers said that they returned fire at Dir al-Balah because a Qassam rocket was launched from there. But it is doubtful that the decision to open fire was made in a controlled fashion.

Both incidents prompted the Palestinian organizations to declare that they would stop observing the cease-fire they had promised Abu Mazen. And they occurred at a time when every Israeli official is saying that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have thus far kept their promise, and that Israel is satisfied with Abu Mazen's actions.

Terror attacks and gunfire aimed at Israelis will not stop overnight, and perhaps not even in the near future. But even the possibility of a significant reduction in the violence and the start of talks between the parties ought to be sufficient for the government to order the chief of staff to stop the daily incursions into West Bank towns, the nightly arrests that often end in fatalities, and the random, instinctive return of fire by IDF outposts toward Palestinian towns. A lull such as this one is needed to build confidence and goodwill. The army and police would also do well to prevent clashes between settlers and Palestinian security personnel, who have deployed in Gaza in coordination with Israel, before they happen. Such clashes could also develop into gunfights whose effect on the lull would be disastrous.

Upon Condoleezza Rice's assumption of her new job as U.S. secretary of state, she announced that she would become personally involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even agreed to consider American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian mechanism that will resolve disputes between the parties during implementation of the disengagement plan. Given the current fragile situation, in which the cease-fire could be shattered by loss of control, military caprice, or insufficient coordination between the sides, the American secretary of state ought to exploit the momentum that has been created and provide immediate assistance, thereby injecting a little more goodwill and motivation into both sides.