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It would be interesting to know what was going through Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's mind when he "calmed down" the rejectionist front in his government by saying "all we did was move a couple of jeeps in Bethlehem." In other words, the agreement with the Palestinians for a cease-fire is worthless. It's impossible to believe that such an experienced politician as Sharon did not take into account the possibility the National Religious Party ministers would keep the news to themselves. Presumably, the prime minister took into account the possibility that this important item would not be missed by the forces in the Palestinian leadership opposed to the new security-political initiative. Didn't Sharon know that his words would be like fuel on the fire burning in the bones of the Islamic Jihad operatives planning the next bombing? Wasn't he concerned that smashing the hope to get out of the siege with a cease-fire might send more suicide bombers to the Hamas?

More interesting than Sharon's provocative remarks was the restrained silence of the intifada leaders. That's no accident. In the manifesto in which they were to declare a cease-fire, on the eve of the bomb in Gaza that killed 15 Palestinian civilians, the Fatah's leaders announced they have no expectations from the Sharon government. Moreover, they promised to stick to their decision, even if Israel tries to drag them back into hostilities. That's why Mohammed Dahlan leaped onto the bandwagon of Marwan Barghouti's initiative, and wasn't afraid to sign an agreement that lacked any indication of a political element, like that found in the Mitchell Report, which included a settlement freeze and an IDF withdrawal to the pre-intifada lines. He didn't even demand the two-month long curfew be lifted from Nablus and its neighbors.

Those in the political, security and media establishment of Israel who belatedly discovered the Palestinian initiative claim the change is a result of "fatigue" or recognition by the PA of the failure of the intifada. Fatah Secretary General in the West Bank, Hussein a Sheikh, told Ha'aretz that the decision to cease the attacks was derived from the recognition that violence, particularly bombings, serves the Israeli occupation policy interests.

Yasser Arafat, who in September 2000 was quick to jump on the tiger's back when the Fatah attacked Israel, now is just as quickly getting on its back when it decided to change direction. At an August 9 meeting with the Fatah executive, Arafat was forced to accept the demand to act against those cabinet ministers opposed to confrontation with the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He even allowed his new ministers - the "reformists" - to present Israel and the U.S. a security plan that includes prevention of incitement.

The entire move is being enthusiastically supported by Abu Mazen and Abu Ala, who had reservations from the start about the return to the military option. They see this as an opportunity to open a channel of communication to the next generation. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, the main financier for Hamas, has responded to appeals by the international community to restrain the leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist group.

Whatever the motives and the processes, the IDF, like the U.S. and Europe, now agrees that for the first time in nearly two years, there are signs of a chance to end the deterioration. While he was still deputy chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon adopted the mantra that the opponent should not be allowed any political achievements that are attributable to the violence. A clear-cut IDF victory, Ya'alon believes, is an absolute condition for renewal of any political process.

But now, even though three weeks have passed since the Tanzim decided to prevent escalation, and the organization - other than some local, private initiatives - has not been involved in any attacks, Sharon makes a mockery of them in the eyes of their own public. Encouraged by his friends in the White House, and at Labor Party headquarters, the prime minister goes on vacation and leaves tens of thousands of Palestinians under curfew "until after the holidays."

They've raised the white flag in Ramallah, but apparently Sharon won't be satisfied until they raise a blue and white flag. An old freedom fighter like him knows what price we'll all pay for it. You can put your money on him understanding the contribution his in-the-face "two jeep" remark will have on Palestinian motivation to adopt the Altalena model.