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The all-clear signal coming from the court of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is covering up a great fear that his light cerebral event will become a heavy political event. Everyone realizes that the reports about his joking with doctors will not distract people's minds from the serious fact that an entire political party and country will depend during the upcoming years on the personality, brain and body of an overweight 78-year-old Jew with a history of a cerebral event. They know that the question of who would have replaced Sharon had he arrived at the hospital too late will reverberate endlessly until March 28. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? Justice Minister Tzipi Livni? Former Shin Bet head Avi Dichter? MK Shimon Peres? MK Haim Ramon? And anyway, who in fact would appoint that successor?

"The uproar surrounding Arik's (Sharon's) hospitalization demonstrates that the nation wants Sharon and that all the others, from Labor MK Amir Peretz to Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom all the way to Bibi Netanyahu are dwarfs in comparison to him," a senior person in the party said analyzing the situation. A close Sharon adviser added that the birth of Kadima was a revolution, whereas its establishment is a slow process. "Revolution is the antithesis of evolution," he said, explaining that the newborn has both disadvantages and advantages. He says the kick in the bottoms of the Likud Central Committee savages is one of the secrets of Kadima's charm, and fans of the new party are in no hurry to hear about plots and intrigues.

After having released the obvious commentary from interested parties, the two sources are prepared to admit that concern over the health of their top star is not improving the party's health. They realize it is impossible to leave Sharon alone with his sons, MK Omri and Gilad, and advisers Reuven Adler and Dov Weissglas. At the next ranch forum meeting, they will urge Sharon to finish drawing up the party list by the end of the year. They do not need to be persuaded that it is important that the public know soon the team's makeup, not just its manager, as well as who will appoint a successor if anything goes wrong, and how that will take place. After all, Kadima is contending for the top spot in the top political league - not for the kingship of Israel, which is passed down from father to son.

Formally, Kadima is not yet a party. If no problems arise, the newborn's registration will be completed during the first week of January. Then it will start to set up branches and register members. Thus far, more than 20,000 people have signed up as activists via its Internet site. Kadima members believe the number will reach 150,000 to 200,000. In party discussions, the leading choice for internal election regulations is open primaries for all party members. Regardless of what happens, Kadima is promising that there will be no institution that resembles the hotdogs at the Exhibition Grounds in any way.

And the convoy does not pass by

It would be interesting to know what went through the minds of foreign ambassadors yesterday when they heard the explanation of diplomatic-military coordinator Amos Gilad for Israel breaking its commitment to place the convoys of buses between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank into operation. Gilad explained that the convoys are liable to be used for the smuggling of technological know-how from Gaza, which will serve the Qassam corps in the West Bank. Without screened and guarded convoys, will the Islamic Jihad branch in Gaza not be able to send operating instructions to the Hebron branch? It would have been better had Gilad said outright that the convoys will pass only after the election dogs in Israel stop barking. Even square diplomats would have understood that in the midst of an election campaign, Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have no interest in the sight of Palestinian buses passing through Kiryat Gat, after the report of Qassams in Ashkelon. The story about the technological know-how sounds like an insult to listeners' intelligence.

Gilad went on to complain that because of the approaching elections in the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is refusing to take action against Islamic Jihad in the northern Gaza Strip. What's the deal? Is only Israel allowed to mix security and politics? Is the defense minister allowed to disregard the government's decision to dismantle the outposts? Is the justice minister allowed to endlessly delay submission of her recommendations concerning implementation of the Sasson report? Even a massive attack on Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon will not be considered a surprise. And if Israel is so worried about the smuggling of technological know-how to the territories, why didn't Israel accept Egypt's proposal to reinforce its forces along the southern border? An Egyptian diplomat who participated in the meeting with Gilad said that Egypt had warned that the border is wide open to arms, drugs, women and merchandise smugglers. Is it conceivable that when Sharon and Mofaz preferred to ignore the Egyptian suggestion, they were thinking about the expected reaction of Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud MK Yuval Steinitz?

Pessimistic parting

After five years, the representative of the World Bank in the territories, Nigel Roberts, is completing his tour of duty and returning to Washington headquarters. On the eve of his farewell, he poured out the bitterness of his heart in a bulletin that was distributed by the bank. "No-one who has been working on the peace process as long as I have can leave here with much sense of achievement," Roberts said frankly. "I missed opportunities. I made bad judgments. My courage often failed me." Having castigated himself, Roberts is free to settle accounts with Israel's government and here and there with the Palestinians.

He said that under the existing situation, it is a pity about the money that the donor nations will give to the Palestinians, in addition to money they already have sent during the past four years. "It is clear what it will take to bring back economic stability and prosperity. You need an end to violence. You need a dismantling of closure. You need proper Palestinian governance... If an elimination of violence is the ultimate key to Palestinian prosperity, closure is the door." He said that all this will not happen without a peace process that the Palestinians believe is leading them to independence and the establishment of a sovereign state. "And the problem is that there is little such belief right now." Roberts himself does not believe that economic welfare and prosperity are enough to ensure peace, but he is prepared to sign on the reverse of the equation: "If you have a collapsing economy, high levels of youth unemployment, prevalent poverty and social hopelessness, there is little basis for compromise and reconciliation."

The international community, especially, of course, the greatest power, barely scrapes by. "You might say that this is a conflict that cries out for a strong and neutral third party. Be that as it may, there is no third party willing to take on such an interventionist role," Roberts said. "That's the reality. So the answers have come from the Palestinians and the Israelis, through the pressure they put on their leaderships for change." He bids farewell in a pessimistic tone: "As yet, though, I'm not sure that there is much of a domestic market for the type of leadership needed to end this long and bitter war."

And the tree-killer of the day is

The Palestinian farmers can invent a new game: the olive tree Toto. Where will the next olive orchard that has been destroyed by outpost thugs be discovered? The latest winner was the one who guessed that the newest victim would be the village of Bourin, at the foot of the Bracha 2 outpost in the Nablus area. This time the operation, to the glory of the State of Israel, was carried out under the nose of an Israel Defense Forces unit controlling the area. This was on land that the farmers of Bourin, out of fear of the settlers, have not visited for many years. After many efforts to coordinate with the Israeli coordination and liaison headquarters, they received a permit last week, and decided to take their lives in their hands. Notice was given to the military forces.

On Wednesday, with the start of the agricultural work, a settler showed up and lay down on the ground in front of the farmers' tractor. The soldiers arrived immediately and informed the farmers of their intention to prohibit immediately continuation of the work. Eventually, apparently as the result of an appeal filed by attorney Limor Yehuda of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel to the Civil Administration, the army changed its mind about its intentions and allowed the work to continue. The farmers who returned the following day to the grove found that 140 trees had been cut down.

In a letter she sent to the State Prosecutor's Office, Yehuda wrote that Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, who has experienced similar incidents in the past, had warned the commander of the company that controls the area as well as one of the policemen at the site that day about an expected act of revenge by the settlers. She asked how a prolonged event of the cutting down of 140 trees was possible in an area that is totally and permanently guarded by the army. At the Bracha 2 outpost, there is a permanent military observation post in addition to many forces guarding positions at the Bracha settlement and observation cameras in the area.

Another 100 chopped down olive trees awaited the farmers of Bourin yesterday. This time, too, the soldiers neither saw nor heard anything.