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Here's some advice for Yossi Sarid: Don't be in a hurry to add Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon to the ranks of the left or call them "penitents" because of their proposals for unilateral withdrawals from the territories and the evacuation of some settlements. Listen carefully to what they are saying. Because what they are proposing, each in their own way, is not a peace plan but an update of the goals of the war against the Palestinians - and a guarantee that it will continue after the withdrawal.

Olmert showed some political courage when he called for a "demographic retreat," leaving his competitors behind in the dust in the race to inherit Sharon's seat. Only one thing was missing from his plan: the Palestinians. What will happen to them on the day after? Who will be in charge? How will they make a living? Olmert doesn't explain and apparently isn't very interested, beyond saying that the terror will continue. Nor does Sharon have anything to say about the fate of our neighbors, making do with the threat that a unilateral move will be more painful than an agreement.

That indifference to their fate is strange, and it is bad news. Only a year ago, Sharon took center stage at the Herzliya Conference and dictated victor's terms to the Palestinians, demanding a profound reform in every possible sphere of government as a condition for a tiny state in provisional borders. And now he doesn't care. Yasser Arafat is still in charge, the Palestinian security forces are fragmented, the terror infrastructure is ticking away and the Palestinian judicial system has not been reformed, as he demanded as preconditions for any progress. But what does all that matter when he has a new magic solution? Israel will gather up the settlers, close the territories in the West Bank and throw away the key.

There is some logic in the argument that Sharon and Olmert make, that Israel should not have to wait forever for the Palestinians and that it has to take care of its own interests. Leaders are allowed to change their minds, and there is no point to being stuck in Netzarim and Kadim just because Ahmed Qureia is taking his time about fighting terrorism. But the emerging picture is of having missed something, of failure. The Palestinians proved their resilience and determination and managed to bend Israel without giving up a single one of their demands. The only flexibility they showed was in naming a prime minster without powers, who only humiliates Sharon by postponing their meeting.

Sharon is now trying to save his lost domestic solidarity and international support. Ahead of his speech next week to the Herzliya Conference, he is formulating a new goal for the war. Instead of "eradicating terror," "getting rid of Arafat" or "searing the Palestinians' consciousness" - all goals that smashed to smithereens on the shores of reality - the Green Line will be moved eastward, control over East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley will be tightened, and everything else will be abandoned. The basic assumption is that terror will go on, and Israel should continue the war from new, more consolidated lines, to ease the security burden and reduce the public pressure.

Sharon is now at the same juncture where Ehud Barak was in the winter of 2000. Barak was threatening the Syrians that if they refused to reach an agreement with him, Israel would unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon. Hafez Assad didn't panic, he stuck to his demands in the negotiations and the IDF left Lebanon down to the last millimeter. Barak was right to assume that the legitimacy of the international border would deter Hezbollah from crossing it in the future. But Sharon is not ready for such a withdrawal. He wants to keep a deep "security zone" in the West Bank and get an informal cease-fire with the Palestinians. Based on the Lebanese experience, the fighting will go on, under mounting international pressure to complete the withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

In retrospect, it appears that the Israeli goals in the war were exaggerated and based on underestimations of Palestinian determination and overestimations of the success of the American war in Iraq as a fulcrum for change in the region. There is indeed reason for a reassessment of the situation, but it had better be more realistic than the previous reassessment, and not assume that a vacuum will solve the Palestinian problem. Otherwise, we will end up with more terror and less legitimacy for the fight against it.