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Those directly responsible for the wave of terror sweeping across the country in recent days are the members of the organizations trying to defeat Israel with violence - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Tanzim.

Indirectly responsible is Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, whose signature won't be found on any operational order and whose instructions will never be recorded by any wiretap, but who knows very well how to make his message heard.

Arafat is interested in proving to the American administration, the Israeli government and those with the ambition to inherit his leadership role, that he is still all-powerful, and that without his approval - which it is dubious he would ever provide under any condition - there will not be an Israeli-Palestinian compromise.

The latest series of suicide bombings reignited public debate over the advantages and disadvantages of expelling Arafat. The professional echelons recommend against it, some absolutely and others conditioning it on timing and circumstances. There is nothing wrong with such a debate behind closed doors, but the ministers who discuss it in the open are damaging Israel's cause. The circumstances have changed: A year ago, Arafat was the sole player on the Palestinian stage; now Israel, and not only Israel, is hoping for the success of the prime minister imposed on Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas.

Just as Abbas must demand Israel allow Arafat freedom to travel, practically as a condition for his own readiness to undertake foreign trips, so must he oppose any Israeli action to forcibly remove Arafat from the territories.

Ariel Sharon's government, the defense establishment and the intelligence community hoped the appointment of Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan and their colleagues to key positions in the PA would contribute to a gradual decline in terror and renewal of the diplomatic process.

That hope was based, in part, on the commitment Abbas made to accept the explicit demand of the road map to begin an immediate campaign against terror. Abbas has spoken against terror, but is yet to take action, and in any case the rejectionist organizations are challenging him in a manner that poses a dilemma to the Israeli government - if it responds aggressively to the attacks, it will play into the hands of Abbas' rivals.

If it shows restraint, the domestic political support for the process that began with a cautious Sharon-Abbas meeting, will be eroded. The choice is difficult but it seems the proper course is the one that helps Abbas help Israel, without staining him as a collaborator.

The Palestinians erred 32 months ago and many of them are still wrong in their assessment that using force will soften Israel. Abbas, who is one of those who admit there was a mistake and now hopes to lead the Palestinians, must provide his constituency evidence of his influence over Sharon. Such evidence could be an Israeli preference for a defensive posture, freezing, for some time, offensive moves except for rare, pinpoint cases in which it is clear that without an Israeli move, the effort to foil a terror attack will fail. Such a general defensive policy would save lives, if with its help and with the the help of American pressure on European governments to cease courting Arafat, Abbas is strengthened, thus helping to breathe some fresh life into the process that the suicide bombings are threatening to kill.