The statistics are in for 2003: There were 3,838 terror attacks against Israeli targets ? a drop of 30% from 5,301 in 2002; and 213 Israelis were killed in these attacks ? a drop of 50% from 458 in 2002.

Are we supposed to celebrate?

The decrease had nothing to do with any drop in motivation by the Palestinians. Instead, it?s attributed to more intensive Israeli military operations in the territories and the building of the security fence.

The Palestinians, in fact, became more resourceful. They increased their use of women, minors, foreign terrorists, Israeli Arabs, animals (by tying explosives to them), underground tunnels and ambulances (to transport bombers and their accomplices) in attacking Israelis.

Two hundred thirteen Israelis. Let?s see, in American terms, that would come to about 10,000 people in the course of a year. Imagine that 10,000 Americans were killed in terror attacks in one year, and the official reaction was: Note the improvement, last year it was 20,000, we?re getting things under control. Maybe this year we?ll reduce it further to 5,000.

Yet, that?s pretty much what they?re saying in Israel. Consider what would have to be called an optimistic scenario: Israel implements Sharon?s partial withdrawal from the territories; the Palestinians are left with a small entity in Gaza and parts of Judea and Samaria; the security fence is completed; the Palestinians do their all, but are unable to kill more than about 100 Israelis per year. And that, give or take a few, becomes the norm.

I fear that, the way things are going, the Israeli government and populace would be willing to live with such a ?norm? ? amounting to an Israeli terror victim every 3-4 days. A name for it would be ? and we can already apply it to the current situation ? the routinization of terror.

And this, I repeat, would have to be called an optimistic scenario. As we?ve seen, the Palestinians are a resourceful bunch. If Israel develops effective means against adult male terrorists, they?ll use women, kids or donkeys to catch us off guard. If they have trouble getting over a fence, there?s still a lot they can do. They can fire over it. They still have a large pool of Palestinians, known as Israeli Arabs, living inside the fence, and they?re hardly averse to mobilizing them. Increasing numbers of these domestic Palestinians are hardly averse to being mobilized and have abetted or actually perpetrated terror attacks (a subject in itself, inviting comparison with America?s internment of the entire Japanese American population during World War II because of an assumed potential for collusion with the enemy).

And there?s always WMD. Reports say Palestinian Hamas is already in possession of chemical weapons. In a situation where Israel is living inside its fence, quietly burying a terror victim here and there, the Palestinians in their entity could quietly smuggle in or develop their WMD capability. Let them fire one chemical- or bio-tipped missile over the fence into a population center, and the fence won?t seem like such a great solution anymore.

But I don?t want to get morbid. Why stir up scary visions of catastrophes and mass casualties when terror victims are down to 200 per year and everyone (except the ones who don?t live) seems to live with it? Why get apocalyptic just because post-hawk Arik Sharon now treats terror as a problem like unemployment or inflation, to be gradually reduced and kept at ?acceptable levels??

The ordinary Israeli citizen ? the little guy dutifully unzipping his backpack so the guard at the cafe or supermarket can peek into it, scurrying to catch a taxi rather than ride a totally unguarded bus ? doesn?t know whom to blame for this situation. Is it the U.S., pursuing Israeli-Palestinian ?stability? uber alles so as not to disrupt its larger Middle East endeavors? If Bush had given Sharon a green light, would the burly ex-general have cleaned out the terror swamps already a couple of years ago? Or has Sharon himself decided that the PA kingdom of hatred and death is a fait accompli, that Israeli society can?t handle a bout of serious, decisive warfare in the back alleys of Nablus, Jenin and Gaza City, and is better off playing permanent tactical ping pong with the PA ? we knock out a terrorist chieftain, you knock out some mothers and kids, back and forth, back and forth....

Ver veiss? I do know that I never thought the Jewish state would become a place where 200 victims of ideological murder in a year is seen not as a military emergency, but as a situation under control. I never thought I?d see Arik Sharon become ? apparently, unless he?s a puppet on someone else?s string ? an apostle of passivity and fatalism. I never thought terror, funerals and jihad would become routine.