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Ariel Sharon has so far stood up well to the public pressure regarding the investigations and scandals. He's been cool and calm, and it is difficult to find any changes in his manner of behavior. The suspicions that have been raised, by both right and left, as if he would try to "wag the dog" with some political or military initiative to distract attention have so far not taken place. The political awakening in the Likud also appears to be premature.

It is difficult to say that he is showing the same self-control in the sphere of state-level politics. At that level, there is evident confusion in the attempt to navigate between conflicting political and security approaches. An experienced journalistic ear, listening to the government's apologetics, noticed familiar tones this week from the days of Oslo. Once again the gap between the official statements and the reality on the ground is deepening, and the excuses sound less and less persuasive until everything collapses under a large terror attack.

Even before the terror attack, Minister Uzi Landau was talking about the lack of a political concept behind the process and warned against conceding mutuality: Israel is being required to make unending gestures, that never satisfy the Palestinians, gives up getting anything back and is still blamed for the failure. Official spokesmen still demand the Palestinian Authority "dismantle the terrorist infrastructure" but at the moment of truth make do with some promise by Mohammed Dahlan that everything will be fine. A senior source is asked why Israel conceded the jailing of wanted men in the cities planned to be handed over to Palestinian responsibility. He said "and how do we handle them?" Here's an example of mutuality - neither they nor we do anything.

The defense minister's associates praised him for running back to save the process after the attacks in Rosh Ha'ayin and Ariel, how he cut short a vacation to meet with Dahlan to summarize handing over the four cities. But Mofaz, a usually balanced fellow, fell into a trap set for tyros. A private conversation with a senior Palestinian official on such a sensitive issue is doomed to contradictory interpretations, denials and problems. The difficulties quickly became evident to Sharon who tried to escape the concession on the jailing of the wanted men. But he found it difficult to repair the damage so he was also forced to back Mofaz against Limor Livnat and her colleagues.

Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon would certainly give a lot to erase his victory statement from a few weeks ago. The army now admits that the occupation of Palestinian cities failed to prevent terror attacks. The IDF wants to run away from the cities and give them to Dahlan, Haj Ismail, head of national security forces in the West Bank, to Yasser Arafat, to anyone who will take the cities, with or without the wanted men. To satisfy its political masters, the IDF wrapped the withdrawal in hollow slogans about "throwing the ball into the Palestinian court," and putting Dahlan and Mahmoud Abbas to the test. But the Palestinians aren't stupid and are in no hurry to jump into the mud when they spot Israeli weakness.

The most profound contradiction in Israeli policy is over the Palestinian leadership. First they were proud of moving Arafat aside and the appointment of Abu Mazen, calling it a sign of victory in the war. Now they are complaining about the weakness of the Palestinian prime minister against the magical chairman, who can press the terror trigger with a glance of his eyes. If that's the situation, why continue playing the game of dialogue with a puppet that doesn't want and can't fight terror? To remove any doubt, Sharon has no faith in any of the Palestinians, not Arafat, not Abu Mazen.

It is difficult to envy Sharon. He has zero freedom of movement, between the American pressures to continue the Aqaba process and the majority in the government, which opposes any harm done to settlements. But his policies, which are meant to buy one more day of calm and to postpone any painful decisions, is meanwhile leading only to failures and losses of assets. In the argument over the separation fence, Israel lost the partial legitimacy of holding onto the settlement blocs, which it worked hard for during Ehud Barak's administration, and the military conflict has reached a horrifying "attack for assassination" balance of terror.