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I hope the Palestinians won't be insulted if I apply a paraphrase of Herzl's famous maxim to them - If they want it, it is no fairy tale. After 55 years of messing up, during which they killed and got themselves killed, suffered and made others suffer, here is an opportunity to finally make their dream of a national homeland come true. If they just want it to. If, for once, they can get themselves to use their god-given brains instead of their gut.

Gut reactions have created only hatred between the two peoples. It has produced shahids who have died "heroic deaths," taking Israeli women and children along with them. It has destroyed the Israeli peace camp, ruined the economy, and sentenced the Palestinians to a life of poverty and affliction. The only thing it hasn't achieved is a state for the Palestinians. They've cut off their national nose to spite their face.

Now that Stage 1 of the road map is off and running, and the parties have declared a cease-fire, it's time for them to use that brain of theirs. Why? Because certain factors have converged for the first time in a way that could spell progress.

First, both peoples are tired of fighting a war that will never be won on the battlefield. Second, America, with its claws extended since 9/11, has begun to turn up the heat and pressure the two sides to hammer out an accord based on the 1967 borders and a new regional order. This proves that American plans, from the schemes of Rogers and Mitchell to the proposals of Tenet and Zinni, never die. They're just dumped in a large drawer in Washington, ready to be hauled out at the proper time with a few cosmetic changes.

Third, the aging Sharon has undergone a ripening - Yesha people would call it "going soft" - and wants to end his term in office with an agreement.

Fourth, the world has come to recognize the irrelevance of Yasser Arafat, and reforms are under way that are crucial for turning a terrorist authority into a proper state with one government and one army.

And most important - Bush has decided to personally oversee the mediating, monitoring, judicial and penal activities that will put his vision into practice, all of which are part of his general campaign to put down terror and terrorist organizations. In this department, we are talking about a president who is literally pawing the ground. Anyone who messes with him had better watch out.

Sharon is right to insist that halting terror and disarming the terrorist organizations is a pre-condition for any peace process. It wasn't just pressure from Egypt and Saudi Arabia that got Hamas and the rest to sign an agreement with the Palestinian Authority - it was the fear of Bush. Hamas is one of the 50 names on Bush's hit list.

The question is where this cease-fire is heading. Its primary goal is to disarm Hamas and finish it off politically. The defense establishment under Shaul Mofaz is skeptical about that. The key figure here is Muhammad Dahlan, and he has told people in Israel he won't do it.

Not because he can't, but because he hasn't reached a strategic decision yet. He wants to be sure that Arafat is neutralized, that he's number one after Abu Mazen. he wants to be sure America will provide him with political and financial support and that Sharon will embark on confidence-building measures such as dismantling outposts, releasing prisoners and not ordering closures.

If the cease-fire holds for three months, it will be extended again and again - a period of calm and political vision that we all deserve after 33 months of war. The road map, if anyone has forgotten, calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders within a year, and a permanent accord within two years - the whole kit and caboodle during Sharon's term in office.

America is not only the visionary and designer of the plan, but an active partner in carrying it out. Bush is the one who will decide who isn't doing what he should be doing, or who has violated what. If Sharon doesn't evacuate settlements or withdraw troops, Bush will be there to twist his arm.

I don't know what Sharon is whispering in the ears of the assorted Liebermans, but the fact that they're still in the government points to one thing - they are betting that the Palestinians will soon be back to terror as usual. If Sharon is bluffing, the Palestinians now have an opportunity to check out his true intentions.

Yesterday, the army began its pullback from Gaza. Today, the cease-fire goes into effect. From tomorrow, it's all up to the Palestinians.