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Israelis and Palestinians have in recent days gone to great and sophisticated lengths to kill one another.

A Palestinian suicide bomber - European in appearance, according to descriptions - blew up a bus in Haifa, killing 15 Israelis and injuring dozens of others; and on Friday night, two Palestinian suicide attackers disguised as yeshiva students killed a husband and wife and injured nine others in Kiryat Arba.

For its part, the Israel Defense Forces has conducted a series of raids deep into the Gaza Strip, killing more than 20 Palestinian civilians and wounding dozens; it has set up a 10-kilometer deep "security strip" to the west of Sderot, demolishing homes and uprooting orchards in the Beit Hanun area in the process; it has detained elderly (60 and older) Hamas members; and yesterday morning, using sophisticated missiles launched from afar, it liquidated Ibrahim al-Makadme and three others traveling in his car.

This rampant bloodletting, the product of the minds and capabilities of the two sides, eventually brings the same questions to the fore: Till when? What's the purpose? And why isn't this scheming operational energy channeled into a search for a compromise and settlement?

The reciprocal relationship between the IDF's senior command and the political echelon is a riveting issue that has accompanied the history of the state since its establishment: Any attempt to determine who has the upper hand is doomed, for the most part, to failure. The overlapping interests between the two establishments, the personal ties, the covert motives and the mutual influences have always been interlaced.

So it appears in an analysis of the events of the past; and such is the case, in all likelihood, when it comes to understanding the current reality. Today, we are witness to a situation in which the Israel Defense Forces and the new government (as opposed to the Likud-Labor one) see eye-to-eye on the developments in the Palestinian Authority; they are partners to the same definition of Israel's goals vis-?-vis these developments and agree on the choice of means to achieve them.

The General Staff and the rightist government under Ariel Sharon believe that only force can instill in the Palestinians the realization that resorting to terror was a bad move, with an unbearable cost. In the same vein, the government and the IDF hope to force the Palestinians to adapt their aspirations regarding the terms of a political settlement to Israel's (the present government's) concessional cut-off point.

Ariel Sharon and Moshe Ya'alon will not be moved: They nurture each other with their view that the Oslo agreement was a fateful mistake, that Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were led astray by the Palestinian leadership, and that prior to the rise to power of Ehud Barak and, more so, Sharon, the political echelon could not free itself of the misconception that a settlement with Yasser Arafat was attainable.

This is a view that feeds off itself and, in the natural course of events, it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Presumably, it is influenced by personal motives, some of which are subconscious ones - a need to prove the righteousness of one's way, prejudices, temperament and personality.

The result is an ever-increasing bloodbath. The terror attacks of recent days and the increasingly intense reprisals herald an escalation of the violent confrontation.

Although there may not be much point in voicing such statements to the extreme right-wing government that Sharon has established, one should make a point of reminding its ministers that a politician's job is to initiate and renew, and not to get bogged down within the prevailing discourse. As prime minister, Barak ignored the view of the IDF and pulled out of Lebanon; former prime minister Menachem Begin disregarded the assessments of his chief of staff, Mordechai Gur, and signed a peace treaty with Egypt.

The defense establishment, headed by the IDF, is doing its best to combat the murderous Palestinian terror. It's time now for the politicians to realize that the use of force has its limits and that it is not extricating Israel from the serious distress that has gripped the country since September 2000.

The expected election of Abu Mazen as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority - a process that began yesterday - is an apt opportunity for Israel to demonstrate creativity in the political arena as well, and to do its bit to put an end to the mutual killing.