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A dense row of policemen from the Palestinian Presidential Guard is deployed in the streets of Ramallah whenever the entourage of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) passes through, or whenever a high-ranking guest visits him. Judging by the dramatic manner in which the Israeli media dealt two days ago with the "assassination attempt" against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, one might have concluded that the plotters were pulled from among the ranks of the Presidential Guard at the last moment, when they were just about to shoot at Olmert's car when he was on his way to taste the cooking of Saeb Erekat's wife.

The dramatic Israeli reports confused the Palestinian spokesmen. Each one gave a different version, which only reinforced the impression that this was a roundup of the usual suspects. For their part, the spokesmen immediately suspected that the Israeli drama was intended to sink the Annapolis summit. As though otherwise it was destined to be a success story.

It's true that one should never believe official spokespeople, certainly not those of any security service. So we should not automatically believe the details given by the Palestinians: that the three (or five) men were simply discussing an unripe "plan" among themselves, that their intended weapon was a Molotov cocktail, and that they were released after a two-month investigation by the Preventive Security Services, because no sufficient grounds were found to indict them.

In Ramallah they came to the conclusion that the two men who were detained for a second time last Friday were actually taken into custody to protect them from Israeli arrest, after the detention of their friend at a military checkpoint. To the same degree, it is permissible, even recommended, to ask whether this is not an example of hysteria and deliberate inflation on the part of the Shin Bet security service. "The Shin Bet is well aware that this is not a serious conspiracy, otherwise what prevented the Israeli army from arresting those released?" they wondered in Ramallah.

The Israeli opinion of the PA security services is fueled by images rather than reality. The details of this reality are precisely what caused the Palestinians to dismiss the dramatic Israeli report: After all, any two people can declare themselves a cell in one of the many groups of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, and the Shin Bet can declare any three Fatah members "a terrorist cell" and enhance the imaginary danger they represent. Young Palestinians, most of them Fatah supporters, joined the security services mainly for the salaries they offer in a period of chronic unemployment. Their military training and their skills are accordingly inferior.

The true motives behind the adoption of the title "Al-Aqsa Martyrs" are related to jobs, honor and power more than to an ability to act against the occupation. The arrogance comes at the expense of seriousness. And none of the Palestinian echelons, from the two governments to the "cells," excels in its planning ability, a necessary condition for any "assassination plot" as for any struggle against foreign rule.

The Palestinian spokesmen were confused not because Israel "caught them in the act." They were confused because again Israel provided an overly strident reminder of its true expectations of the PA: that it serve as an assistant prison guard, a subcontractor of the Israeli occupation. Since its establishment, the PA has oscillated between the two extremes: placating Israel and the United States, on the one hand, and convincing its people that it is leading them to the end of the occupation, on the other. At one point it arrests and conceals, at another it releases and conceals. Abu Mazen sometimes condemns Israel, sometimes calls Israelis "our neighbors." On the basis of these imaginary neighborly relations, he invited Olmert for a return visit in "his state" (Jericho, for this purpose).

Whether this was a plan that failed (and if it had succeeded or even been attempted, it could have been expected to worsen Israeli oppression), or whether it was a fantasy of frustrated young men, the "assassination plot" serves as a reminder to the government in Ramallah: Even those who depend for their livelihood on PA money do not forget that Israel is not the neighbor to the west but the occupier that sits in their homes. For them the Israeli prime minister is not a neighboring leader who is visiting them, but the exalted representative of the foreign invader.