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It happened a very long time ago - some three weeks - and so it is difficult to recall. When the government approved Operation Defensive Shield, it set out two goals - the destruction of the Palestinian terror infrastructure, and the isolation, "at this stage," of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

The largest military operation undertaken in the territories since they were occupied in 1967 is now coming to an end, and senior Israeli intelligence officials are already warning about the likelihood of upcoming terror attacks. This result warrants criticism of the state's political leadership, with respect to their assessments and the wisdom of their judgment.

The Shin Bet security service, the Mossad and Military Intelligence proved that they have an excellent network for gathering information about developments in the Palestinian Authority. Were it not for the skill of these organizations, Israel would be much worse off in confronting the Palestinian uprising. In light of its excellent performance to date, there is no reason to doubt the intelligence community's current, updated forecast regarding a new wave of terror.

This forecast means that Operation Defensive Shield did not achieve the goals that were set for it: The Palestinian terror infrastructure was not destroyed.

The operation did not attain its second objective either: Arafat was isolated for only a limited period of time. The original government decision hinted that Arafat's isolation was to be followed by a second stage, but this phase is not being implemented - unless Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to begin with was basically to skirt by this second-stage siege on Arafat's Ramallah compound and agree to the presence of the PA leader at a regional conference that the prime minister has advocated.

These lines are not being written in a gleeful spirit of condemnation. It must be noted that the decision to mount Operation Defensive Shield won widespread popular and media support. As far as the public was concerned, the brutal wave of terror that preceded the military campaign and reached its peak with the vile attack on Passover eve at Netanya's Park Hotel warranted the large-scale military operation in Palestinian territory. The general feeling was that enough was enough, that the state simply could not continue to exercise restraint in its responses to lethal suicide strikes, and that the scope of the Palestinian terror (and the level of damage it was inflicting) was beginning to pose a strategic threat to Israel's ability to function.

The political leadership let the Israel Defense Forces win. Yet, after both Israel and the Palestinians have paid a price during the three weeks of the military action, the elementary facts and circumstances remain intact. Hence a completely new approach is needed to allay the violence and stabilize relations between the two peoples.

What the lone wolf, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, understood in his day, in 1967, many - including several ministers (Likud members too) - understand today. With their population of 3.5 million Palestinians, the territories are a burden that increasingly disfigures the normal functioning of the state, and the establishment and maintenance of settlements is a fateful, ongoing error.

Each of Israel's governments for the past 35 years is implicated in this blunder, and the way to rescue Israel from the noose around its neck is to separate it from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The state needs geographic-demographic borders that are suited to its founders' vision and will enable its residents to live an orderly life.

To bring about such a new reality, in its negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel's leaders should present a proposal that explicitly indicates a readiness to return to the 1967 borders. Any other proposal only foments suspicions that Israel has a hidden agenda and intends to maintain control in the territories.

The present government is comprised of 27 cowardly ministers who know deep in their hearts that there is no other solution, yet are afraid to present the inevitable conclusion to the public since it contradicts their declared positions. The Likud's incendiary rank-and-file frightens some of these ministers more than Palestinian terror does.

As things stand now, the brunt of the responsibility for the continuation of the crisis faced by the state rests with Labor's ministers: Were they to quit the government, they would jolt its stability and shed the vest of sanity and decency that protects it here and there in the international arena. But Labor's ministers are the worst, most confused politicians in the country.