Everybody seems to be waiting for the big bang: the military onslaught against Arafat's forces, from Jenin to Hebron and from Gaza to Rafah, that will create chaos among the Palestinians and - in the same way the Big Bang 15,000,000,000 years ago blew our universe into existence - will bring forth new forces among the Palestinians, creating new dimensions of time and space in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Sharon's long-time supporters are convinced he is gritting his teeth, waiting for an opportune moment. It did not come, as some had expected, after Sharon's return from his meeting with President Bush, and it did not come after his return from his meetings with Chancellor Schroder and President Chirac. Will it take another catastrophe like the Dolphinarium? Or will it come after patience has worn thin, after everything that could have been said has been said at the Cabinet debates between Shimon Peres (who continues to insist Arafat is our only hope) and the hard-liners?

In the meantime the debate continues. Will we be better off with Arafat out of the way, or is this irascible terrorist the best option on offer to Israel? If he informs us that he intends to return to Tunis or set up shop in Baghdad, are we going to beg him to stay? And in the meantime, the government's policy of restraint and unilateral cease-fire continues while Israelis are being killed on the roads, Psagot receives its nightly dose of bullets and Gush Katif its daily ration of mortar shells, car bombs are left to blow up in Israel's cities and suicide bombers are being prepared for their murderous missions.

Instead of attempting to divine what alternate futures hold in store for us, or arguing about whether Israel would be worse or better off if Arafat were to leave the scene, our government should be concentrating on immediate objectives - putting first things first. It is incumbent upon the government to protect the lives of Israel's citizens and it should be taking all possible measures to attain that objective. Even Shimon Peres should have no difficulty explaining a policy whose specific objective is protecting Israelis against murder - murder on the roads and murder in the streets of our cities. This is not primarily a matter of targeting individual Palestinians, but rather of extending protective cover to Israelis in danger of attack, interdicting terrorists on their way to attack Israelis, and taking initiatives in the field to abort acts of terror.

Too often we hear the lame excuse that the Israel Defense Forces cannot protect motorists on thousands of kilometers of highways in Judea and Samaria - that, in other words, we are destined to suffer daily murder on the roads until such time as we have given Arafat what he wants. The fact of the matter is that the stretches of highway on which Israeli motorists are endangered are far fewer, and focused military action on these stretches can produce results. The use of protective walls along the sides of roads is generally a waste of time and money. Unfortunately, after almost 10 months of killings on the roads, we are only now beginning to hear of plans to direct the IDF to focus on the roads, and we have yet to see the results.

Dealing with the danger of suicide bombers is also presented as an almost impossible task. The fact is that the entry of Palestinian suicide bombers into our cities is at present relatively easy and often it has only been luck that prevented additional catastrophes. The reason for this is that over 100,000 Palestinians, from Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and Jordan, move freely among us, many of them residing in Israeli cities and villages. Total anarchy reigns concerning the entry - legal or illegal - of Palestinians into Israel, their work and their residence here. In these circumstances it is relatively easy for Palestinian terrorists to move about in Israel, frequently receiving assistance from Palestinians who happen to be here. Thus, suicide bombers make it to their intended targets with relative ease. The terrorist who exploded himself at the Dolphinarium was driven there by a Palestinian from Qalqilya who resides in Jaffa and was asked by his friends in Qalqilya to drive the suicide-bomber from the Qalqilya

check-point to Tel Aviv. The time has come to put an end to this state of affairs. As long as we are threatened by these kinds of outrages, the presence of over 100,000 Palestinians from Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and Jordan in our midst is a luxury we can ill afford.

If the measures required to restore safety to Israel's citizens are taken, the big bang may not even be necessary.