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On Tuesday, January 17, 1978, then-prime minister Menachem Begin made a speech at the Jerusalem Hilton, during the visit of an Egyptian delegation headed by foreign minister Muhammad Ibrahim Kamel. The group came to Israel to further the negotiations between the two countries, which started two months earlier with the boisterous landing of president Anwar Sadat at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Begin referred to his guest as "young man" and made a powerful political speech in which he taught a chapter in the history of the Jewish people and described their claim to the Land of Israel.

Twelve hours later, Sadat recalled his delegation and caused a serious crisis in the unfolding dialogue between the two countries. When the Israeli guests and the American mediators sought to understand the causes of the Egyptian president's decision, they learned that one of the reasons was the patronizing tone with which Begin addressed Kamel.

Begin acted with good intentions: He bothered to attend the official dinner and did not leave the role of host to his foreign minister, Moshe Dayan, in an effort to honor the Egyptian guest. He believed there was something cute and fatherly in addressing Kamel as "young man" (15 years separated the two men), but his guest was insulted and so was the Egyptian president. At the time, the potential for a crisis in the negotiations existed even without the Begin speech; however, his style provided the spark. The Israelis in charge of state policies at the time, among them Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, who were supposedly great experts on the ways of the "Arabs" and their sensibilities on matters of honor, did not apply this need to practice.

Last week, when Ariel Sharon called Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) "a chick without feathers," he only added fuel to the blaze in which the road map was burning. A week previously, Sharon gave Abu Mazen credit and considered him a worthy interlocutor. There is no other way of understanding his choice of expression except as an attempt to intensify the dispute with the Palestinians and to complicate it terribly; on the other hand, the choice of words suggests an outburst of rage that paralyzes his ability to consider his next step coolly.

This is also the key to understanding Sharon's decision to assassinate Abdel Aziz Rantisi. It is most reasonable that he sought in this way to sink the Aqaba process. On the other hand, he acted out of an emotional tempest caused by the continuation of the militant attacks. The method in which he chose to contribute his part in disrupting the nascent diplomatic process (or, which he uses in order to release his frustration at the continuation of Palestinian terrorism) is a well-tested one, and proof of this are the periods of calm that were violated as a result of the killings of Abu Ali Mustafa, Ra'ad Karmi, Salah Shadeh, and others. Sharon invented this method in the early `50s: When he was commander of a battalion of reservists in the Jerusalem Brigade, he instructed a number of his officers to shoot women at the village of Katana when they were drawing water. The reason for this was that, on the way to the well, the women crossed the border. Already thinking the killings would result in an artillery response by the Arab Legion, he set in place teams with mortars. And so it was: A quiet area exploded and the UN observers had to intervene. Many years later, some of the officers in the battalion came to feel they were tools in the hands of an arrogant commander who started a blaze on the border between Jordan and Israel with insufficient justification.

Abu Mazen is no chick. He is also no goose laying golden eggs at the behest of Israel, but he is a man whom Sharon allegedly wanted to see at the head of a Palestinian government and he even actively pursued this effort. Sharon continues to claim that Abu Mazen is a positive alternative to Yasser Arafat. Why then does he act as if he is planning to decapitate him?