By Naomi Ragen

What is it about the office of prime minister of Israel that turns fearless generals into spineless jellyfish? How is it that people who can read complicated strategic maps and plot the crossing of the Suez Canal under enemy fire suddenly can't negotiate their way across the street without getting run over?

We cannot blame the disastrous stewardship of Israel over the last 10 years that has left her people battered, her economy near ruin, her political stature at its nadir on any particular party line. The fact is, prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, although on different points on the political spectrum, have all fallen equally into the same incomprehensible patterns of self-destructive leadership. All share equally in the ongoing disaster that is the stewardship of our precious Jewish homeland, the State of Israel.

It was Rabin who invented the Orwellian doublespeak of terror victims as "sacrifices for peace." It was Barak who continued to absorb terror attacks with a stiff upper lip, saying they wouldn't "deter him from pursuing peace."And now it is Sharon who tells us that lack of reciprocity on the Palestinian side "won't budge" him from blindly ripping up settlements in exchange for nothing. And he says it as if it's a good thing, a brave thing he's doing, instead of utter stupidity.

I WOULD have thought that if Israelis had learned anything at all from the wave of terror following Oslo it might have been the simple concept that when you sign an agreement and keep your end, you have to insist that the other side do the same and be held accountable for violations.Otherwise, what you have is capitulation and defeat, and the abandonment of your people to mass murder.

I think part of the answer to the question of the failures of Israel's last three governments Sharon's included is that the Israeli people simply refuse to see the handwriting on the wall.Recent surveys show that about 58 percent of the Israeli people are in favor of taking down settlements. The same survey shows 53% believe that the road map has no chance of succeeding.

Sharon was recently booed out of his own party conference, a party that only months ago supported him with fanatic fervor despite clearly stated policies that went contrary to everything the Likud party has ever stood for, and which he is now simply putting into practice.When it comes to politics, the Israeli people are not rocket scientists.

Maybe the dichotomy of people willing to give something for nothing shows more about how Israelis have been brainwashed by their own politicians into believing Palestinian propaganda, which points to settlements as the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Those with a slight historical perspective, of course, know that the attacks and murders and delegitimization of the Jewish state precedes West Bank settlements.

However, even if Israelis couldn't care less about these pioneer outposts they should be made to realize by their leaders that taking down settlements in the current situation is like a man swimming in shark-infested waters deliberately cutting his finger. Taking down even one flag-waving teenager on a hilltop in Samaria while the other side continues to pursue terror as a tactic is tantamount to letting the sharks taste blood.

Like Oslo, the road map is a disaster forced on us by those who do not have our best interests at heart, aided and abetted by our elected leadership, who, once again, have betrayed us.

The only question now is how many of us are going to die until they lay the road map to rest, only to replace it with yet another "peace plan" that won't work because, obviously, for the Palestinians, terror continues to pay.

The writer is a best-selling novelist.

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