The Palestinians really wanted to take control of Bethlehem sometime before Christmas. But after yesterday's shooting attack just south of the city, they can forget it.
Bethlehem was supposed to be just one of the cherries in Israel's basket of gestures, but the security establishment is now formulating a new stance: no more transfers of West Bank cities to the Palestinians, least of all Bethlehem.
In general, the era of gestures has come to an end. In practice, this means that some roadblocks on West Bank roads will be resurrected, as will dirt fortresses on roads leading out of Palestinian villages.
Limits will be placed on movement towards olive production areas, worker movement to Israeli industrial zones in the West Bank will be limited, and some roads will be completely off limits to private Palestinian traffic.
Easy to forget
The Palestinians just about forgot there were things like this. Not only them: We, also, have dozed off lately. A few weeks of quiet in the West Bank, and we forget just where we live.
The IDF checkpoint near the site of Sunday's shooting was not permanently manned. The murderers carried out their deed about 100 meters from the Etzion Brigade headquarters, they moved freely around in an Israeli car, waited unfettered near the hitchhiking post, opened fire from the back window, killed three kids and escaped in the direction of Hebron.
They found a hole in the chain – and the entire Palestinian population will pay the price.
Security officials do not currently see a connection between the two attacks Sunday. The acts were carried out differently, the guns were different, and they were almost definitely carried out by different cells.
The attack in Gush Etzion was very reminiscent of a similar attack near Beit Hagai three months ago. Then, too, an Israeli car waited near a hitching post and opened fire: Two killed, three wounded, and the killers got away.
It is reasonable to think we are talking about the same cell, a group that raises its head once every few months, carries out an operation, and disappears into Hebron.
We are probably talking about Hamas, but it's not out of the question that Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades' claim that they carried out the attack is authentic.
The army and Shin Bet are continually monitoring the situation in the West Bank to try and discern signs that could indicate the outbreak of the third intifada: A wave of terror attacks everyone predicted would follow the pullout from Gaza.
Sunday, too, the question was asked: were these two shooting attacks the first drops of the coming flood? Or are we still talking a statistical success, the ones that got through after dozens of thwarted attacks?
At the moment, the security establishment leans towards the second option. They say the climate is not right for a third intifada.
For some time, there has been a standing estimate that the Palestinians have two attacks "ready to go" and several terror cells in operation.
In accordance, the Shin Bet and IDF have arrested some 700 people in connection with underground and terror activity.
There is a standing race between terror groups trying to renew their campaign of murder and Israeli forces trying to stop them.
There are attempts to smuggle weapons from Gaza and Sinai to the West Bank. But, say security officials, these attempts have not attained a critical mass sufficient to rekindle a wave of attacks.
But maybe the gauge isn't entirely accurate: In the past, Israel has failed to understand – or understand too late – the winds blowing amongst the Palestinians.
It is entirely possible that Sunday's attacks could be a blueprint.
In any event, the "temporary calm" is due to expire at the end of 2005. Then, it stands to reason that someone will decide to move the game up by a month or two.