The Israel Defense Force is operating under a particularly bizarre situation: in a normal country, the straightforward goal of destroying the enemy's ability to carry out terror attacks allows the army to identify what targets should be destroyed/controlled in order to achieve this goal. In sharp contrast, the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has set the goal for the IDF to ?aid the diplomatic effort to secure a complete cease-fire.?

?Cease-fire? means the enemy temporarily stops shooting. The enemy can cock all the ?guns? it wants - it can even work to increase the number and quality of those cocked ?guns?. Furthermore, to add to the confusion, Prime Minister Sharon has already declared that he doesn't expect the Palestinians to ever completely stop shooting. How many Israelis can the Palestinians legally ?bag? a day? One, two, three? Do ?settlers? cost as many ?points? as ?people? in Netanya? Are 10 moderately wounded Israelis equal to one dead or can the Palestinians keep on attacking until they ?bag? their daily quota?

The above may sound farfetched, but Sharon talks of wanting to see a ?significant reduction.? Thanks to the large number of Israelis murdered in the last few weeks, the Palestinians can now murder several Israelis a day and it would still qualify as a ?significant reduction.? This sounds more like an adult version of a game of tag than a serious effort to protect the Israeli population. We have been playing these games too long. Too many people have died because of security measures that were lifted so that Sharon could gain a few ephemeral PR points.

While the IDF did begin to ?drain the swamp? earlier this month, now that we have left Palestinian Authority areas, now that we have eased restrictions, it will all be back to what it was before ? and then some. Next time, the Palestinians will be that much more prepared than they were this time. Don't be fooled by the destroyed buildings. Arafat's bunkers are intact. His fortified underground storage and command and control centers were not even touched by the Israeli bombing runs. If Arafat really wanted to, he could confiscate thousands of weapons and destroy scores of still hidden bomb factories in a matter of hours ? not days or weeks. He has the manpower, the weapons, the command infrastructure. However, Arafat doesn't want to ?drain the swamp? - Arafat wants to fill it. The last thing we can afford is for Sharon to allow him to do it.

Unfortunately, it seems that Ariel Sharon has decided that ?a Palestinian state is a foregone conclusion.? That is what he shouted at a Likud party meeting not that long ago. In a way, I am glad he said it. At least now we have at least a hint of what probably is a key operative assumption of our Prime Minister. An assumption that no doubt plays an important role in his decision-making process.

When I consider what a Palestinian state would mean, a sovereign Palestinian state, I know that this is not a minor question. A sovereign state is a sovereign state is a sovereign state. The moment that it is a sovereign state even if that sovereign state abrogates and violates the agreements and understandings and solemn commitments that may have been the basis for the establishment of that sovereign state, still that state remains a sovereign state. Yes, sovereign states don't enjoy immunity. Israel can send an army into the sovereign state of Palestine just as it sent troops in Lebanon, but the costs and the dangers and the potential for its spilling over beyond limited conflict would be many times greater than it is today. A sovereign terror state next to Kfar Sava and in the suburbs of Jerusalem would constitute a serious threat to Israel.

So, when Sharon tells us that he has thrown in the towel, that this sovereign terror state is inevitable, I can draw only one conclusion: I want a different leader. I want a leader who hasn't given up. There are good people out there who haven't conceded the battle.

For that reason, the decision by the National Union to finally pull out of the Sharon-Peres government is a gain all around. Prime Minister Sharon and Foreign Minister Peres have been the real decision makers in the government - the rest have only been there for show anyway. After over a year in power, the cabinet has yet to have one serious discussion of where they are trying to go and how to try and get there. The cabinet hasn't even seen the text of the Tenet plan - let alone discuss it. The really important decisions go to the three man mini-cabinet of Foreign Minister Peres (Labor), Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer (Labor) and Prime Minister Sharon (Likud), for a two-to-one majority for Labor. Yet, that's also only for show. If and when Sharon wants to take a firmer stand, all he has to do is go to his extended security cabinet or his full cabinet, where the national camp holds the majority - with or without the National Union. Sharon is the government.

We saw how little Sharon thinks of the cabinet when, in contravention of a cabinet decision to keep up operations until there is a cease-fire, Sharon stopped the IDF in Ramallah before the army could complete an operation against the trapped terrorists. Sharon knew the cabinet opposed the move - after all, as part of the theatrics this Wednesday Sharon ?threatened? to put the decision to stop the operations up to the cabinet for a vote, when it wasn?t apparent that he also wanted to call a halt.

What can the National Union do from the outside? Stripped of their Volvo's, Benny Elon and Avigdor Lieberman's criticism of Sharon's policies will be sharper, genuine and effective. Such an effective national camp, in opposition, has a better chance to turn Sharon's pollicies and decisions into issues subject to serious debate. The rally last week at Rabin Square was certainly impressive, but with the National Union in the opposition the rally can turn from being a one-time event to the launching of a movement to retake the streets from the radical left diehards who have yet to concede that they made a horrible mistake. The national camp, in opposition, will also substantially strengthen Israel's position internationally by lowering expectations as to what concessions Sharon can make without sacrificing his own political future.


Dr. Lerner is the Director of IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis). His weekly radio commentary can be heard on