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We've already been down this road before. The prime minister, with or without a cautionary note from Washington, decides to demonstrate restraint in the event of a terrorist bombing/Qassam, the Israel Defense Forces withdraws its troops from an urban settlement (Bethlehem - remember?) and hands responsibility for the act of terror back to the Palestinian Authority. A week or two later, or a month or two at most, a terrorist/rocket makes it back to Jerusalem/Sderot, and the refrain is sounded once more: "We cannot trust the Palestinians. Who gave them rifles?" The next Qassam rocket that lands in the northern Negev will elicit a new line: "Abu Mazen, Abu Amar [Yasser Arafat] - they are one and the same." The only question is which cabinet minister/member of Knesset will be the first to complain that the PA exploited our naivete, and made its police into the defensive shield of Hamas.

These remarks are not meant to detract from the importance of recent developments in the northern Gaza Strip, or to diminish the joy of the death- and anxiety-stricken residents of Sderot and Beit Hanun. The security coordination and the Palestinian efforts to enforce order in the territories both are excellent news. Specifically for this reason, every effort should be made to ensure that the last of the murderers does not succeed in making this a short-lived news flash.

As part and parcel of the policy of restraint, and before any "gestures" along the lines of prisoner releases are extended, the basic approach to the PA needs to be updated. To remind the reader, the cabinet decision of December 14, 2001, which stated that the PA under Yasser Arafat's leadership is a "terror-supporting authority" remains in force. The PA and Israel - which girded itself in an all-out struggle against any and every terror-supporting group - are, formally speaking, in a state of war.

Perpetuation of the perception of the PA as an enemy entity has a strong effect on IDF commanders and seeps into the consciousness of every soldier. Contemplation of Palestinians through the gun sight affects the distance between finger and trigger. Identification of the civilian population as a single bloc that supports terror (a claim not supported by the polls) has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This, despite the fact that Israel has no interest in Abu Mazen being portrayed by residents of the territories as a subcontractor of the Shin Bet security service or of the military censor.

It is odd that the vice prime minister - who earned a Nobel Peace Prize thanks to the agreement on mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO - is not demanding that this cabinet resolution, born in the Arafat era, be replaced by a renewal of the formal recognition of the PA as a partner for peace. The dust has to be removed from the Yitzhak Rabin variation on the Ben-Gurion formula dating back to the struggle against the British, according to which, "We must fight terror as if there were no peace process, and continue the peace process as if there were no terror." Rabin was not expressing readiness to conduct negotiations with terrorists. He refused to give the backers of terror the pleasure of sabotaging peace efforts. His formula lost its validity when it turned out that Arafat was turning a blind eye, and even winking on occasion, at the violent elements in his midst.

Security officials have no proof that Abu Mazen is in this matter following in the footsteps of his predecessor, or that his mouth and heart are not in the same place regarding his efforts to enforce a cease-fire. There is therefore no foreseeable reason for the government not to announce that along with renewal of security coordination, the sides will also renew activity via the diplomatic channel. In addition, in the absence of mutual trust, there is no choice but to have the assistance of a third party for purposes of control, guidance, mediation and providing mechanisms for conflict resolution. Israel cannot be party to the conflict, judge and executor after the next Qassam. Which is why it was stated: "Quartet representatives begin informal monitoring and consult with the parties on establishment of a formal monitoring mechanism and its implementation. ... Implementation of the U.S. plan for rebuilding, training and resumed security cooperation in collaboration with outside oversight board (U.S.-Egypt-Jordan). Quartet support for efforts to achieve a lasting, comprehensive cease-fire ..."

These statements are excerpted from the American road map plan for realizing the two-state vision of President Bush. So long as the last of the terrorists can influence reality in the field more than the most powerful man in the world, this vision will remain nothing but an empty spectacle.