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The settlers and their supporters have done Ariel Sharon, and themselves as well, a favor by tying the prime minister's disengagement plan to his investigation by the police. The claim that Sharon is trying to divert public attention away from the suspicion that he accepted a bribe actually diverts public attention away from the suspicion of sins of commission (and omission) that are far worse than bribery. It is enough to ask how many of the thousands of people killed over the last few years would have been alive today if Sharon had transferred Gaza to the Palestinian Authority three years ago, as an advance payment on a final-status agreement.

Has the hold of Hamas extremists on the territories weakened during those years? Does Israel, as it dismantles settlements "under fire," have greater deterrent power than it had when it originally refused to conduct negotiations under fire because this would weaken its deterrent power? And what will the Arabs learn from Israel's decision to give up Gaza without obtaining anything from them in exchange?

That Sharon has become a partner for peace, or that terrorism pays? That it is better to stop killing Jews, or that if they continue to kill us, we will give them more territory?

One can assume that Deputy Minister Zvi Hendel of the National Union, who is so fond of the slogan "the depth of the evacuation will be determined by the depth of the investigation," believes that the diplomatic developments in the Prime Minister's Office are tied to the criminal developments surrounding Sharon's Sycamore Ranch.

After all, Sharon, the defense minister, the chief of staff, the head of the Shin Bet security service and the police commissioner have not informed ministers and deputy ministers, and certainly not Knesset members and the general public, of the real reason for the unilateral withdrawal plan. They have not let them in on the big secret: that the concept that has guided Sharon's government - as expressed in slogans such as "let the Israel Defense Forces win," "liquidating terror" and "searing the Palestinians' consciousness" - has gone bankrupt.

Sharon's disengagement plan was not born of the Greek island sin. The half-baked decision to change his policy stems from the collapse of the defense establishment. Over the last few months, IDF, Shin Bet and Border Police field commanders have been reporting that their forces are stretched to the limit. They say that officers and soldiers, policemen and Shin Bet agents have all reached the point of exhaustion. The high command is complaining that training days have been reduced to a minimum, and officers are warning that friction with Palestinian civilians at roadblocks and settlement outposts is eroding motivation and destroying the soldiers' morale.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, a well-known fan of the outposts, hastened to position himself on Sharon's side. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, whose statements against a withdrawal from Netzarim adorn the settlers' posters, is keeping mum.

In an article published on June 3, 2001, Benjamin Netanyahu wrote that he "competely disagrees" with the claim that it is impossible to defeat terrorism by military means.

In order to restore Israel's deterrent power, Netanyahu proposed that the government "act with the necessary forcefulness, up to and including the paralysis and collapse of the Palestinian Authority."

The second Sharon government, in which Netanyahu is a senior minister, took this advice even further. It tightened the siege on Yasser Arafat to the point of deciding to remove him and ordered the IDF to expand its assassinations, even adding Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his senior aides to the target list. New walls, barbed-wire fences and roadblocks turned the West Bank and Gaza into corrals.

But despite all this, the Palestinians show no signs of giving up, nor is there any sign that a partial withdrawal from Gaza will weaken them. According to the information in Sharon's possession, warnings of planned terror attacks are now as numerous as they were on the eve of Operation Defensive Shield in March 2002. His interview with Yoel Marcus in Haaretz, like his Herzliya speech, are, in effect, an admission of the failure of the right's disastrous idea that it is possible to rule over another people by force of arms.

The plan to dismantle some settlements in Gaza is not meant to divert attention from the police investigation. Rather, the investigation is diverting attention from Sharon's responsibility for the ongoing war in the territories.