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To save us and the Palestinians from distress when the next terrorist attack sends the Israel Defense Forces back to Ramallah, it is worth looking at the opening sentence of the road map - "a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be achieved only through an end to violence and terrorism."

How many Palestinians believe that an end to violence will in fact lead them to independence? How many Israelis believe that a two-state solution will bring an end to the conflict? The affair of the prisoner releases demonstrates the width of the credibility gap between both sides during the first faltering steps of the map, and which threatens its failure. What one side considers a generous gesture, the other side sees as a ploy to humiliate it.

Without a belief that it will lead to an end of the occupation (rather than to a Bantustan) - Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has no motivation to risk a frontal clash with Hamas. So long as his public suspects that the Oslo Accords were a plot to destroy Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will not pay the political price of a clash with the settlers.

Each side's avoidance of fulfilling its commitments encourages the other side to follow suit. Thus the two adversaries are pushed into a never ending game of mudslinging at the enemy until the enemy buries another political initiative underneath it and deepens the credibility gap even further. Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Kobi Michael, one of those who established the security coordination and liaison apparatus between Israel and the PA and was in charge of it, claims that a lack of confidence, in addition to cultural and structural differences, doomed the joint patrols to failure.

One of the conclusions he spells out in a memo he wrote for the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is that it is imperative to involve a third party, agreed upon by both sides. The role of the third party will be to bridge the credibility gap between Israelis and Palestinians, and even to solve differences of opinion that the two sides have not succeeded in solving by themselves.

The importance of such a body is illustrated by the Water Commission, the only one of 26 Israeli-Palestinian commissions that never stopped operations. It is also the only forum headed and administered by an American representative.

Michael was also a member of the Israeli-Palestinian think tank sponsored by the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information [IPCRI], which prepared a detailed plan for third-party assistance in the implementation of stage one of the road map. The plan suggests establishing an international force numbering 250-350 people, which will accompany local bodies, from the district level up to the general staff, in coordination, monitoring and guidance.

This force will assist in collecting weapons, dismantling illegal outposts and restraining incitement. It will monitor the checkpoints and international transit points, and will keep track of the steps being taken by Arab countries to end the funding of terrorist organizations. In some tasks, Egypt and the European Union will join the United States.

The participation of all the parties in a trilateral apparatus, which has defined tasks and which will be equipped with carrots and sticks, is supposed to turn them, too, into interested parties eager to promote its success.

The idea is not foreign to the United States - the third party most identified with the road map. It appears in the Tenet plan of June 2001. CIA chief George Tenet then recommended the established of a permanent trilateral apparatus composed of senior security officials from Israel, the PA and the United States. According to the plan, the three groups are supposed to meet at least once a week, and to receive current information about the planning of attacks, about the movement of suspects and about the steps taken to prevent attacks.

The passivity of the American team headed by John Wolf, which was sent to monitor the implementation of the road map, is totally different from the recommendations of the Tenet report, which is mentioned as the basis for the security aspect of the map. The relatively junior diplomat (rather than a senior security official), was authorized to observe the sides and to give them grades - red, yellow, green. His bosses are also keeping their distance.

Here President Bush gives a wrist-slapping over the separation fence; there Secretary of State Colin Powell balances it with a comment regarding the fight against terror. As long as this is the example they are giving for the implementation of the road map, we have to pray for the good health of the hudna.