Just weeks ago, my family and I went out for Saturday lunch in Bethlehem. The magazine I edit ran a cover story on the thousands of Israelis flocking into the West Bank to shop in Palestinian cities. One of my Israeli reporter colleagues was given a guided tour of Ramallah.
Now Palestinian antagonism is such that when two uniformed Israeli reservists stray into Ramallah - not two undercover commandos, as the Palestinian media claims - they get torn limb from limb, and undercover commandos are activ-ated to try to bring the killers to justice, all too aware that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has no intention of doing so.
Just a few weeks ago, too, Mr Arafat was sharing a pleasant evening's conversation at Prime Minister Ehud Barak's house in Israel. The shift from the brink of peace to the brink of war has been stunning and, frankly, incomprehensible.
I don't know how much control Yasser Arafat has over his purported loyalists in Gaza and the West Bank, the ones with the guns who are vowing to maintain what they laughably call their new "peaceful intifada" until Palestinian independence is achieved. I don't know whether he genuinely believes that more than 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the past three weeks as part of a diabolical "exit strategy" from the peace process, hatched together by Mr Barak and opposition leader Ariel Sharon, as is being claimed by Mr Arafat's now under-employed former peace negotiator Saeb Erekat.
But I do know that the notion of such an "exit strategy" is absurd, that this bloodshed is futile, and that it may well get worse, if the Tanzim and other gunmen don't stop shooting.
At Camp David in July, Mr Barak went far beyond the presumed limits of Israeli consensus, and offered to withdraw from more than 90 per cent of the West Bank and to share Jerusalem with Mr Arafat. He did this even though he was far from sure his public would back him, and even though his mentor, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated five years ago by an Israeli citizen, for the "crime" of relinquishing other Biblical territory to Palestinian control. He did this because, as Mr Erekat knows, he was seriously trying for a permanent peace.
Maybe Mr Arafat feared that to sign up for Mr Barak's offer would be to sign his own death warrant. Shared control of Jerusalem, true enough, is not what he has been promising his people down the years. …