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Too much time has gone by since we heard the well-known slogan, "Arafat has to be kicked out," which once accompanied every terrorist attack. Almost an age has passed since the debate raged over the question of "whether Arafat can but doesn't want to, or wants to but can't" - prevent terrorism, that is. We have almost forgotten how to spell hudna, and Abu Mazen's name can be a good question for a trivia game, together with Tenet and Mitchell, soon to be joined by road map. We have also successfully negotiated the Geneva document and The People's Voice without a scratch, and the interview with the four former heads of the Shin Bet security service can now be found only in a few naive Arab papers, which think that an upheaval is actually under way in Israeli society.

Last week, the editor of the Lebanese daily Al Nahar, Ghassan Tawini, wrote an article in which he proposed to the Israelis and Palestinians, and to the Arabs in general, "Let us try to weave the characteristics of the state of the future, which will go beyond `mono-nationalism' or `binationalism,' since these are concepts that belong to the past. Let us look toward a political society like the European Union, in which we will renew our aspirations together before we all drown together." Poor Tawini. He based his call on what he describes as the common despair of Israelis and Arabs, and he thinks that this despair is actually going to produce original political thought in Israel.

In Lebanon, there are some who are floating new ideas. Even in Egypt the weekly Al Ahram al Arabi can publish a series of articles about the essence of the dictatorship under which the Arab states exist, while in Saudi Arabis the public discourse against Islamic terrorism is being cultivated. The shockwaves of the conceptual jolt haven't yet reached Israel, though. No barricade has yet been positioned against the dictatorship of the old conceptions: "The only thing the Arabs understand is force," "There is no partner for negotiations," "Without prior conditions," "Unilateral solution," "First the cessation of terrorism, and then negotiations." These are tin-can conceptions, persuasive and easy to digest, which place the entire blame on "the circumstances" and not on the impotence of the leadership. The belief in the truth of these conceptions is so fanatic that any challenge to them is tantamount to the desecration of all that's holy.

It has been made clear to us for the past three years that the Arabs don't understand force. The number deaths, suicide bombings and alerts raise the serious suspicion that the Israeli military "educational system" imposed on the Palestinians has failed. Instead of a political process, the Palestinian partners are being offered work permits. The question of whether the Palestinian Authority is responsible for something has long since become irrelevant; Israel is the sole manager of the territories in every sphere. The words "without prior conditions" should be seen as a certain refinement of the phrase, "Please don't bother us now." Israel put forward 14 prior conditions with regard to the road map, and is presenting two prior conditions for a political process with Syria - dismantlement of weapons of mass destruction and an end to support for terrorism - as a prologue to two more prior conditions: no return to the point at which the talks were broken off and no return to the lines of June 4, 1967.

"First a cessation of terrorism, then negotiations" - this is the mantra Israel repeats endlessly, to the point where the negotiations with Hezbollah on the return of the Israeli prisoners are forgotten, the conditions to achieve a hudna that might be able to put a momentary stop to the terrorism are rejected, and even the lessons of Iraq fail to be learned. Iraq, where the United States is consistently conducting negotiations under terrorism, is not a role model in Israel, nor are the successful talks that were conducted for eight months between the United States, Britain and Libya.

Conceptions don't require proof of their correctness - they only wait to be refuted. So that as long as their refutation can be prevented, they remain in force. In order to retain their validity, all that needs to be done is to keep Assad isolated and Arafat in the Muqata, then to topple Abu Mazen and block the conditions for the success of Abu Ala. That is the effective way to preserve the circumstances, and as everyone knows, circumstances are like the finger of God - there's nothing that can be done about them.