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Between 1994 and 2000, Yasser Arafat would describe every piece of land the IDF evacuated as "liberated." His senior minister sand guides followed suit. Thus, Gaza was described as liberated and so were Jenin, Salfit, and everywhere else that was defined as Area A - under Palestinian administrative and security control.

The process of sanctifying Area A included describing Hebron as "liberated" starting in 1997, even though 30,000 people living in the heart of the ancient city continued to suffer under direct Israeli control, meant to protect the welfare of some 500 Jews living there.

The fact that no Palestinian living in those "liberated" cities of the West Bank could move more than three kilometers outside the city without encountering an Israeli military position, and that from nearly every Palestinian community, residents could see Israeli settlements expanding and encroaching, did not confuse the public relations artists of the PA. It did, however, cheapen the stature of the PA's leaders in the eyes of their public.

True, Arafat was president of the (virtual) Palestinian state - it said so on the official letterheads of the PA and that is how he was addressed, but the residents of that "state" were dependent on the official stamps of the Israeli Civil Administration for their freedom of movement and their population registry, dependent on information-hungry Shin Bet officers and IDF soldiers at checkpoints to conduct the routine of their lives - no less than they were dependent on the Palestinian officials and the plethora of Palestinian security forces.

The Palestinian government not "only" hid revenues from the PA's treasury, meaning the Palestinian public, and handed out funding to nurture cronies and neglect the majority. It also corrupted the language to make its terminology fit the reality that was promised and never fulfilled: ending the foreign occupation of Palestinian land and Palestinian society.

Many cooperated with the deception - representatives of the donor countries, UN envoys and Israeli peace camp activists. Symbols of sovereignty (stamps, an airport, uniforms and other perks) made people forget the main issue - that without sovereignty and authority over the land, meaning control over its development and its potential for the future, there was no meaning to the Palestinian civil-administrative responsibility for the people of the West Bank and Gaza. It was very convenient for Israeli public relations overseas, which could argue - and convince the world - that the occupation was over because Arafat controlled 99 percent of the Palestinian population.

Now, and not for the first time, Ariel Sharon is juggling with the term Palestinian state, referring to the Bush framework. Maybe he really thinks it's possible to describe as a "state" a collection of administrative enclaves, which might be connected with a road that makes it possible to talk about territorial contiguity, without control over the borders and the water resources and without evacuating settlements that will continue to separate the enclaves, and as they expand, impose themselves on all the landscape and space of the West Bank and Gaza.

Maybe Sharon really does think the Palestinians don't need any more than that, or that under the pressure of the Israeli military attacks they will accept it as their fate. Maybe he is interested in creating the impression of a debate inside his movement. Maybe he really is so sophisticated that he knows that such a truncated "state" is an impossible project, but that he's really addressing America and he is convinced that George Bush doesn't dwell on details.

People pay attention to the fact that Sharon is speaking of a Palestinian state, not to the fact that this is the castration of a term meant to reflect the principles of the right to self-determination, equality between nations, sovereignty and independent decision-making. And that's the absurdity of our political life - empty talk has turned Sharon into "a leftist" in the Likud. In other words, we've reached the stage where someone who doesn't explicitly preach expulsion or transfer of the Palestinians out of the country or perpetuation of the military regime over them, is a "leftist."

As in the Oslo years, with all the talk about a "state," the substance will be forgotten and the shell will be sanctified, when the state is the means, the shell. The essence of the original demand for "two states" was independence for the Palestinian people. But it was also the ability and desire of the State of Israel to be freed from its inherent urge to control the Palestinians and their future and to continue taking over as much of their available lands as possible. That is the inherent urge that sabotaged our ability to live in the region in peace.

The fear is that the "leftist" Sharon's energetic statements and the seemingly sharp debate that he is conducting with his party colleagues over a "Palestinian state" will be enough to give the Labor Party an excuse to rejoin a national unity government and thus lend a hand to perpetuating the bloodshed-ridden conflict with the Palestinians. The fear is that the empty talk will be portrayed as "a political horizon" that requires the Palestinians, in exchange, to give up their hostile activity. And then it will be possible to claim that the Palestinians, once again, missed an opportunity.