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At the risk of the following scenario sounding tendentious because of wishful thinking and gloating, it appears that the "grand scheme" worked out by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his generals and the right wing of the government has resulted in a failure: They did not eliminate Chairman Yasser Arafat, nor did they destroy the Palestinian Authority.

Following months of brutal military operations, thousands of casualties, delegitimization and insults, brainwashing and political and media manipulation that would have toppled many a regime, Arafat, besieged and humiliated, is still holding on, while Sharon and his cronies are the ones who have been pushed into a defensive position; evident in all its absurdity in their frightened rejection of President Moshe Katsav's hudna initiative.

Once again, as was the case during the Lebanon War, the arrogance of power, patronizing Orientalism and planning that doesn't see beyond the intellectual horizons of the generals was exposed. And once again, the "national assessor's" forecast has collapsed, and his tendency has been exposed: Failing to distinguish between intelligence assessments and ideological positions, he offers rationalizations for every planned adventure and, at the same time, immunizes the adventurers against the results of their deeds - because there is, supposedly, no alternative; and if the plan failed, it was only because the Americans and the leftists got in the way.

After all, someone had to advise the generals that Arafat could be eliminated by humiliating him, and that the spirit of the Palestinians could be broken through brutal collective punishment. But as it emerges, Arafat actually is more "relevant" than ever, the Palestinian people are demonstrating an amazing resilience; and the age-old excuse of "terror against women and children" is melting away.

Military Intelligence - the national assessor - feels it has to cover up its mistake by intensifying the ideological statements: "The bottom line is that the Palestinian goal, from a historic perspective, is to undermine the Jewish nature of the State of Israel."

And the outgoing commander of Military Intelligence offers his own contribution to psycho-history: "Arafat is not built... for historic compromises." In other words, there's no choice, we must continue the onslaught, so as to expose the wily ways of the terrorists."

It's difficult to believe that in any open and liberal society, a commander of any military branch would issue such a public "historic perspective" without being silenced immediately by angry protests, irrespective of the doubtful validity of such a "perspective." But in a society that is used to viewing the Arabs through the eyes of "Arabists," these words were accepted as obvious. Because in this society, whatever Arabs have to say must never be taken at face value and must always be interpreted on the basis of their "mentality."

Now, it's as clear as day: For as long as Arafat doesn't unequivocally declare that he accepts the Zionist enterprise, he'll be defined as a terrorist. It won't help if he makes do with the statement that Israel is a fact, even if born in sin. On the contrary, this would only prove that "he remains committed to the right of return and sees it as a key to turning the Jews into a religious minority," as Military Intelligence has said.

And this means that he is an incorrigible terrorist, because there is no chance that Arafat - or even the most moderate Palestinian - will ever be able to become a defender of Zionism, but, at most, will only be able to bow before the facts of life. Thus, the litmus test is clear: Either you're a Zionist or a terrorist.

Such a test leads to endless war and the justification of each and every act of brutality, because it is "an existential threat."

So, why haven't we heard the voices of those who believe in peace, in the possibility of reconciliation. Most of them also believe distinguishing between accepting the Zionist enterprise a priori, or in retrospect, is evasion. They also want Arafat to accept "the Zionist enterprise," so they can finally rid themselves of the burden of guilt about the way in which Zionism steamrolled the Palestinians: The victim must justify his torturers.

But all this spin doesn't erase the feeling that maybe the worst is finally behind us.