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Disturbingly, there's at least one indication that Ariel Sharon really thinks time is on his side: The prime minister clings to his belief that "a million Jews" will immigrate to Israel, and defuse the demographic threat to the Jewish state. Nary a meeting with wealthy, visiting Jews goes by without Sharon preaching to his guests about immigrating to Israel.

The troubling thing is that when a leader believes time is on his side, he has no reason to try to change reality. Yitzhak Shamir, who was sure the passage of time would strengthen the vision of Greater Israel, formulated the doctrine this way: "In the end, the Arabs will get used to the situation."

That doctrine brought about the first intifada, the struggle against the Oslo process (before the first terror attack), and various ploys to evade negotiations for a final status agreement. The camp that believes "time is on our side" accuses the left of succumbing to a "now-ism" that erodes Israel's bargaining ability. Let's give them another year or two (say those who believe that time is on our side), and ignore doomsayers, such as the former head of the Shin Bet security service, and the Israel Defense Forces will win the contest. Let's get rid of a heretic like Yossi Beilin, and the Palestinians will rid themselves of Yasser Arafat. Remove a defeatist like former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, and Arafat will be replaced by a leadership that will happily lap up the fenced-off Bantustan that Sharon will so generously offer.

In his Herzliya speech last year, Sharon criticized Israelis who hope the dispute with the Palestinians can be solved with a "wave of the sword." Sharon said a solution can only be found in a "piecemeal, careful" fashion. At the behest of Sharon's careful, incremental method, thousands of Israelis and Palestinians have been killed or injured over the past year; masses have fallen below the poverty line; billions of dollars have been squandered; hatred has mounted; and the demographic threat has increased. The first stage in Sharon's Herzliya 2002 plan was the "replacement of the Palestinian leadership" (after which there was to be a Palestinian state in "A" and "B" lands, and final status talks).

Before he delivers his Herzliya 2003 speech, Sharon would be wise to review a report formulated by former Shin Bet officials and IDF intelligence officers, along with a group of Middle East experts, and submitted to the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. Sharon will find that time is working against him, even with respect to the first stage of his plan: The truth is, if we don't act quickly and make a deal with Arafat, the day will come when we miss him. "Arafat's removal would in all likelihood aggravate processes of dissolution in Palestinian society," the report concludes. After Arafat is gone, it adds, "the advent of warlords is to be expected."

The report's authors claim the struggle against Israel will serve as a calling card, and as a demonstration of national commitment, among various Palestinian groups that will vie for a premier role; and so this internal struggle will not curb the motivation to carry out terror strikes against Israel. The Islamic groups will be the main beneficiaries of the demise of a cohesive Palestinian civil society that might have directed social ferment toward democratic channels. Hamas is likely to emerge as the only political force that has enough clout, status and strength to mobilize the Palestinian public. The absence of an effective Palestinian leadership could confer a death sentence to hopes for serious negotiations, and for the restoration of peace and quiet on the ground, the report concludes.

The people who authored this report, figures such as Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror, former head of IDF intelligence research, are hardly Peace Now activists. These are sober people who are ringing the alarm bells. Time is playing into the hands of fanatics and criminals on both sides, and against those who believe in compromise and the rule of law. Time is on the side of the nightmare of apartheid, or the end of Zionism; the passage of time is against our parents, who sought the establishment of a Jewish, moral democracy. These parents are leaving the stage, leaving their children and grandchildren in the hands of leaders who have nothing to propose other than blood, sweat and tears.