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It's a good thing Israel did not kill Marwan Barghouti; but it's a shame that it arrested him. Following dozens of assassinations, the Israel Defense Forces suddenly proved that when it wants to arrest someone instead of assassinating him, it knows how to do it quite well. If Israel had only adopted the same approach with Fatah activist Dr. Thabet Thabet, or the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa, plus a long list of other targeted Palestinians, the intifada's flames would be a lot lower and a lot of blood would have been spared on both sides.

Regrettably, however, Israel did not take the wiser course of action and allow the Tanzim leader to remain in hiding, the way it has done with some of the other leaders of the Palestinian security services whom, Israel says, have been involved in terror attacks. Arresting Barghouti may have been just, but it is not wise. Now he'll become the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Now that Barghouti is under arrest, Israel must put him on trial in a civilian court, as befits a political leader suspected of serious crimes. As for the difference between civilian courts and military ones, it has already been said that it's about the same as the difference between a philharmonic orchestra and a military band - the same instruments, but with different results.

Barghouti has a much greater chance of getting a fair trial - to which, like any suspect, he is entitled - in a civilian court in Jerusalem than in the military tribunals of Beit El. The court hearings should be open to the public, so that the representatives of the Shin Bet security service and the State Prosecution are required to display the evidence against the man to the entire world. And do we still need to point out that Barghouti should not be tortured, as happened the last time he was arrested? Humiliating him will also fan the fames of rage in the Palestinian and Arab street.

Of no less importance is to listen to the accused. Not only could the Shin Bet learn quite a bit from him, all Israelis should take heed as well. Look at Barghouti and you'll understand the entire story. The path he took was the only one we showed the Palestinians - a path on which we tripped and pushed them deeper and deeper into despair and ultimately to violence.

Barghouti may be responsible for ruthless terror attacks, but Israel is likely to long for leaders like him, because his heirs will be much, much worse. Full of vengeance and hate, they will not be partners to a compromise like he would be. "You think tomorrow they'll find someone more moderate than me, someone to make [Chief of Staff Shaul] Mofaz coffee in the morning?" he quipped to me a few months ago when he feared he was on Israel's death list.

Barghouti did not begin by killing. As a politician, who apparently turned into a terrorist, it cannot be said of him that he did not try the path of negotiations. He was a peace activist. Few Palestinians were as active as he in promoting peace. He was deeply involved in contacts with many Israelis - and not only ones from the left - and never hid his admiration for certain elements of Israeli life. "I wake up in the morning and look West, not East," he once told me. In those days, he marched in peace demonstrations, his arms locked with those of Meretz lawmakers Dedi Zucker and Zahava Gal-On.

That image may be surreal now, just like the days when he used to take his children to the Safari animal park in Ramat Gan. He would visit the political parties' central committees and MKs, making friends with some of them on joint delegations overseas, never missing a meeting and believing all the time in the purpose of the dialogue. "When will you finally understand that nothing frightens the Palestinians the way the settlements do?" he asked me on Land Day in 1997, while we drove around burning tires in his little car.

A few months ago, while already in hiding, he still called himself "the Palestinian peace camp." An alumnus of Israeli prisons, Barghouti is practically the last vestige of those Palestinians who knew Israelis well and even admired some of their characteristics. "I tell myself how patient we were," he said recently. "I was ready to meet with Shas and the Likud - with everyone. To talk. To persuade. But the Israelis don't want to understand." Now, the beloved has become an enemy. "I know how I've changed," he admits.

More than anything else - and he should be believed on this - he wanted an end to the occupation, not the killing of Israelis and the destruction of their state. But the path grew longer and longer, until, as far as he was concerned, it was never-ending. As in any criminal case, pay attention to the motive for the crime: Barghouti's motive was politically justified, even if his actions cannot be. The politician became the leader of a violent organization that chose terror. At first, he limited his organization to actions only inside the occupied territories, apparently escalating its efforts until he eventually sent suicide bombers to Tel Aviv. "Why should you feel safe in Tel Aviv when we don't feel secure in Ramallah?" he asked.

The image of Barghouti shackled by Israeli soldiers is also a picture that goes back terribly far in time. The former prisoner and deportee, who became a leader and a legitimate partner for dialogue, is once again in irons. Israeli tanks are in the casbahs, soldiers are in the refugee camps, the Ketziot Prison has reopened, and Barghouti is under arrest once again. The long path Israelis and Palestinians walked together seems to have vanished, as if it had never existed at all. When Barghouti is released again from prison, he'll be even more extreme. Maybe by then, there will be nobody to talk with.

"This is our gift for Independence Day," one IDF officer so arrogantly defined his arrest. No gift could be more depressing.