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Almost at the exact time that someone in the prime minister's entourage briefed reporters that Sharon had plans to tell President Bush that Abu Mazen "isn't lifting a finger against terror" and that the cease-fire "has collapsed," Military Intelligence research chief Yossi Kupperwasser was telling members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Palestinian Authority chairman is making an effort to stop the shelling of Israeli targets and that the cease-fire has not folded. And Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said something about giving Abu Mazen another chance. The two didn't mention the fact that the Palestinians reported four casualties over the weekend, including a seriously wounded officer in their security forces, as a result of operations to stop the firing of mortars.

Mofaz and Kupperwasser didn't point toward a possible link between the escalation in the Rafah area and the death of three Palestinian youths from Israel Defense Forces gunfire (the Palestinians have school records indicating that the oldest was 15 and the youngest 13).

The Knesset members aren't particularly interested in the socioeconomic collapse in the Gaza Strip. The eve of Passover is nigh, and there's shopping to be done for the holiday feast; who has the time for unemployment and idleness among the Arabs, or talk of hunger that is driving the Strip youth to acts of despair? This is the hunger that, according to the IDF, pushed the youths into the hands of the arms smugglers, or, according to the Palestinians, enticed them into stealing the cameras positioned on the fence despite fear of the soldiers (according to the story told by the two youths who came through the ordeal by the skin of their teeth). Maybe someone would toss them a few shekels for the cameras.

According to the IDF Spokesman's Office, the Palestinians have passed on a report that notes that the investigation has revealed that the members of the cell were planning a smuggling operation through the fence.

It seems we'll never learn of the true crime of the youths. Cease-fire or no cease-fire, the new military advocate general, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit, wasn't able to come up with sufficient reasons to change the investigative procedures - put into practice by his predecessor, Menachem Finkelstein - when it comes to incidents involving the killing of unarmed Palestinian civilians. Under the "state-of-war" procedures that went into effect shortly after the outbreak of the intifada, the commander in the field (namely, the commander whose forces are suspected of the killing) is the one who decides if there is cause to hand over the case to the Military Advocate General's Office and the Military Police - aside from in special cases in which there is a very strong suspicion of a criminal offense. It appears that this time, too, the commander in the field will be the one to investigate who gave the order to open fire - without warning, and to kill - at youths who were posing no threat to the lives of the soldiers.

And we're not talking about the outposts

When someone high up there, in the government, and perhaps even a little lower, in the Yesha Council, wants to sort out construction in the West Bank, the Civil Administration inspectors are very adept in demolishing - you bet!

The IDF also places much importance on enforcing the law in the territories. In a written response to a parliamentary question from MK Zahava Gal-On, Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim confirmed that "from time to time, reservists ... accompany the inspectors." Gal-On didn't inquire into the situation of the illegal, oops, sorry, "unauthorized" Jewish outposts. After all, everything is down in black and white in Talia Sasson's report. The Yahad faction whip wanted to know if Palestinian neighbors who build without permits from the authorities are treated in a similar fashion.

Gal-On, who during the years she worked for the B'Tselem human rights organization heard a thing or two about the apartheid policy in the territories, couldn't believe her eyes. Boim's letter was accompanied by a detailed list of 362 demolition operations (84 of them were carried out by the offenders) throughout the West Bank. No, we are not talking about "outposts" of course. The document was entitled: "Demolition of illegal Palestinian construction in 2004." All the operations were carried out in Area C, which comes under full Israeli control, and which is home to the vast majority of the "outposts" and a few thousand Palestinians. A small number of structures were razed for the purpose of "exposure," and others in response to terror attacks (a technique that turned out to be misguided and was suspended). Some of them had been built in "firing zones."

In January last year, Shlomo Politis, then legal adviser to the Civil Administration, told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee that "on the practical level, there are no more building permits for Palestinians" in these areas. Despite the efforts of the "hilltop youth" to flex their muscles, to poison their wells and their livestock, these miserable shepherds and workers of the land have nowhere to go. To their downfall (yes, they also have "natural growth"), they are trying to imitate their neighbors and underhandedly build a shed, a sheep pen or a toilet. Here and there, someone has tried to lay foundations for a new house or build another floor for the next generation.

Unfortunately for them, as the document shows, when they are faced with a Palestinian target, the inspection forces don't even have to time to take a pee. The following are just a few examples of successful demolition operations involving populated structures - a container in Tsur Baher (16 square meters); six sheds with fabric roofs that served as residences in the village of Ras Karkur in the Ramallah district; a container and development work and a furniture warehouse (about half a dunam) in Abu Dis; four tents and an animal pen in Azun Atma, in the Qalqilyah area; four huts that served as residences (some 125 square meters each) in Beit Hanina; three huts (some 20 square meters) and an animal pen and foundations for a structure in the village of Samua, in the Hebron area.

Who will collect the fees at Karni?

Up until a short while ago, the fees at the Karni crossing were one of the most important sources of income for the Palestinian counter-security apparatus. Responsibility for the crossing, and with it, the bank account, now lies in the hands of the Civil Work Affairs Ministry. What has changed?

According to the Palestinians, the decisive change is Mohammed Dahlan's transformation from being the strong security man in the Gaza Strip into the minister for civil affairs. To his chagrin, the head of the counter-security apparatus, Rashid Abu Shabak, discovered that Dahlan took the fee forms from the crossing with him. The Palestinians charge that Mofaz was the one who had looked out for the interests of his long-time favorite, and that it is a shame that the Israeli leadership is unable to wean itself off the underhand habit of stirring up the murky waters of the PA leadership.

Israeli sources gave the following response: "Mofaz isn't the one to decide which Palestinian organization will assume responsibility for the crossing and who will collect the fees. This is an internal Palestinian matter."

Riddle: What interest would Abu Shabak have in giving Dahlan one of the last of the geese that lay golden eggs?

While the PA bemoans an increasing shortage of arms and ammunition, or hunger in Gaza, the coffers of the Palestinian Investment Fund are bursting at the seams. And all thanks to a successful investment, or successful gamble, as some say, on the part of Yasser Arafat. In 2002, when the Orascom corporation, owned by Egyptian entrepreneur Sawiris family, ran into trouble, the controversial economic adviser and current member of the Orascom board of directors, persuaded the rais to invest no less than $200 million in the company. At the end of 2002, the corporation's share was trading at less than $2; yesterday, it stood at $71.5 - such that the PA investment is currently estimated in billions of dollars. The biggest brokers in the world have yet to forgive themselves for thumbing their noses at the two Palestinians, who in the throes of a violent struggle with Israel, with the intifada at its peak, and with the PA knocking on the doors of the donor countries, decided to invest a huge sum of money in a company that was going bankrupt.

The economic press is reporting that today, the Sawiris family commands a commercial empire worth more than $12 billion. Its business affairs stretch from America and all the way to Bangladesh and Iraq. The total worth of the companies under its control makes up some 40 percent of the value of the Egyptian share market. Its performance in 2004 was among the best seen on capital markets around the world. The most successful business, the one on which the Palestinians gambled, is the Orascom Telecom Holdings mobile telephone company. Naguib Sawiris, the eldest brother who sits at the top of the corporate ladder, wasn't the first to cotton on to the huge potential, estimated at some $600 million, in mobile telephone users in the Middle East. Before Oslo became a dirty word in Israel, there were those - first and foremost, Stuart Eisenstadt, under-secretary of state for trade in the Clinton administration - who believed that this huge market was Israel's for the picking.