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The lethal terror attack at Negohot on the eve of Rosh Hashanah confirmed the forecasts voiced in holiday interviews. This new year, like the previous three, apparently will belong to religious fanatics and other intransigents rejecting compromise.

Ariel Sharon has announced that "there is no possibility of forging a settlement so long as terror continues, and so long as the Palestinians fail to crack down on terror."

Ehud Barak, Sharon's predecessor as prime minister and perhaps his rival-to-be in the next national elections, has supported this position, opining: "Sharon is right when he says that it would be wrong to move one millimeter on an a major issue before it is clear that the Palestinians are doing their utmost to destroy terror."

The demand that the Palestinian police succeed in an effort that has frustrated Israel's air force, tank corps, Border Police, and Shin Bet security service, Sharon knows, is implausible. Barak understands that no Palestinian organization for national liberation has put down its arms in the absence of a guarantee that the occupation is to be brought to an end. Barak himself once said in a television interview that had he been born a Palestinian, he doubtlessly would have joined militants who fight Israel.

Up to three years ago, Israel's government (under Barak's leadership) upheld the principle that Israel ought to pursue the peace process as though there were no terror, while also fighting terror as though there were no peace process. Barak conducted final status negotiations with Yasser Arafat at a time when Israelis were murdered in Ramallah and Tul Karm.

Now Barak supports Sharon's position that demands that the Palestinian Authority fight Hamas as though there were no occupation (as is required under the road map), but overlooks the fact that Israel refuses to dismantle illegal settlement outposts, and freeze settlement construction (as is also required by the road map), as though there were no terror. The Palestinians, Israel's neighbors, must embark on a civil war while Israel continues to kill innocent civilians who have the bad luck of dwelling in neighborhoods next to "terror suspects." Palestinian authorities must endanger their own lives in a struggle against their own countrymen, and then return by nightfall to a village or city which has been turned into a prison compound by Israel's separation fence.

No national movement and no government, including Israel's government, would ever agree to appear to play the role of collaborator with the conqueror in order to improve the conqueror's security situation.

Israeli security officials who are experts on Palestinian affairs urge that Saeb Erekat's analysis be taken seriously - the chief Palestinian negotiator maintains that in the absence of any progress on the peace process (and humanitarian) track, incoming PA Prime Minister Abu Ala will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Abu Mazen; and armed, unrestrained, militias will, under this scenario, replace Abu Ala.

Standing on every available soapbox, Erekat warns that he himself, and his colleagues in the PA leadership, would be the first ones to receive house calls by these armed militia men. These militants belong to a generation that came of age during the first intifada; for them, an Israeli is the soldier who sits atop a tank, at a roadblock or in an armed group of security men that frightened his mother in the middle of the night. As far as these militia men are concerned, there is no difference between Sharon and Barak, or between Yossi Sarid and Effi Eitam. En route to the next violent attack, they will sneer and laugh about the threat voiced by Israel's prime minister - that there will be no peace agreement so long as terror persists.

The suicide terrorists apparently have managed to distort the public's grasp of what right-wing, and also opportunistic, politicians have wrought. A growing segment of the public takes it to be self evident that the issue which rivets Israel-U.S. relations is a fence built against surface-to-air missiles that might threaten planes landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Lurking behind this position of ratcheting conditions for resuming the peace process up to a level that the Palestinians will never reach is a dubious, troublesome position - viz, a peace agreement has become the Palestinians' interest. Should they behave well, they'll receive such an agreement; if they behave poorly, they won't. It's as though our own lives, our morality, our democracy and our economy can do without a peace agreement.