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It is doubtful whether the "Karine A" affair would have aroused such an uproar if its cargo had been destined for rejectionist Ahmed Jibril [leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP], as it turned out a few days after the capture of the ship "Santorini" last May.

The reactions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz, and the expressions on their faces, revealed that their happiness was twofold. Not only did the successful operation save many lives in Israel; it supplied additional incontrovertible proof of their claim that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a "terrorist entity."

Even former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not miss such an opportunity to kill two birds with one lash of the tongue. He warned that if a Palestinian state is established, arms ships will be lining up at the Gaza port. A Palestinian state, as everyone knows, is not only the dream of our enemy PA Chairman Arafat, but is also a central component of the plan being offered to Arafat's representative by the foreign minister of Netanyahu's political rival Sharon.

It is clear that the smuggling of Katyusha rockets to the territories does not contribute to the security of the citizens of Israel, just as the use of helicopters and F-16s does not prevent the escalation of terror and violence.

On the other hand, one doesn't have to be a famous historian, or even to look far, in order to know that nationalist organizations have abandoned the path of terrorism when they succeeded in freeing themselves from the yoke of occupation. In war as in war, there is shooting, arms smuggling, lying and a loss of confidence. However, at the end, after the blood price has been paid, there is usually a resolution, and one may hope - a political compromise. The reason for the dead end in which we find ourselves is that both sides are talking about peace and making war.

If it turns out that Arafat is in fact talking about a cease-fire and at one and the same time smuggling arms, he will cut off the branch on which men of peace such as Dr. Sari Nusseibeh and Dr. Yossi Beilin are sitting. One picture of the cache of Katyushas that the PA was planning to launch at the residents of Israel, outweighs dozens of peace manifestos.

But the same is true of the Palestinians: The sight of a new settlement next to their home outweighs all the agreements, from Oslo to Mitchell, from Wye to Sharm al-Sheikh.

Traumatic experiences such as the smuggling of Katyushas and suicide attacks naturally distract people's attention from central but dry facts. Who will now question Sharon's demand for a total cease-fire before he agrees to begin the implementation of the Mitchell report?

Who remembers that the late minister Rehavam Ze'evi repeatedly said that he would not have remained in the Sharon government if it had formally approved this report? Could settler [and present tourism minister] Benny Elon sit in the government that signed a document which says that it must "freeze all settlement activity, including the `natural growth' of existing settlements," and that "the kind of security cooperation desired by the government of Israel cannot for long coexist with settlement activity described very recently by the European Union as `causing great concern' and by the U.S. as `provocative'?

How long will Public Security Minister Uzi Landau sit in a government that implements Mitchell's proposal "that the government of Israel may wish to make it clear to the PA that a future peace would pose no threat to the territorial contiguity of a Palestinian state to be established in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip"?

Will National Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman sit quietly in the face of a real "danger" that Arafat will emerge with a state from the contacts between Foreign Minister Peres and Speaker of the Palestine Legislative Council Abu Ala? He must have died laughing when he read in the paper that Arafat's state will wait for 18-24 months, in other words, until Benjamin Netanyahu returns to power.

The preoccupation with the cease-fire, like the proposal of the National Security Council to get rid of Arafat, or to wait for his successor, are part of the national sport of throwing the ball into Arafat's court. How many Israelis are willing to bet that if Arafat arrests all the Hamas activists, and doesn't allow a single gun to cross the border - Sharon will make an offer that will leave the PA chairman alive? The interests and beliefs of the two can come together only on the battlefield. Peres and Ben-Eliezer, Tenet and Mitchell, Zinni and Solana, the residents of Israel and the Palestinians, are only extras in this endless war dance, which is accompanied by off-key songs of peace.