- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Ariel Sharon rides to the rescue. Ehud Barak was willing to transfer sovereignty of east Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, and maybe Israel, to the Palestinians. Not Mr. Sharon.

Ariel Sharon, now 72, was a half-century ago symbolic of the New Jew, tough and leathery, ready to fight for rough justice in a mean world. He emerged on the scene when the classic image of the Jew was still of a brainy guy without muscles, the 97-pound weakling who was forever getting sand kicked in his face because he didn't know how to fight. He could be passively cunning, but not physically courageous.

"Schindler's List," the popular movie about the Holocaust made by Steven Spielberg nearly a decade ago, reinforced that stereotype. The hero was a heroic Nazi con man (not easy to find) with a big physique who liberated Jews who couldn't help themselves.

Mr. Sharon, in contrast, was born on an agriculture collective near Tel Aviv (nothing effete there) and fought bravely in the War of Independence in 1948, in the Six Day War in 1967 and in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He was among the first of the new breed of defiant Jews, the Israeli soldiers we came to admire, who were running against type. For me he was like Hank Greenberg, the Jewish baseball player of my childhood whom sportswriters called Hammerin' Hank and Jewish fans called "the Moses of baseball." He stood tall, carried a big stick and usually his team won.

Although Ehud Barak was a decorated commander, he lost all credibility as he restored the image of a Jewish leader whose power resides in weakness. In his attempt to make peace at almost any price, he disgusted even the doves in his party, many of whom stayed home because they couldn't vote for Mr. Sharon and wouldn't vote for Mr. Barak. The only forward step Mr. Barak took was to show all Israelis and the rest of the world that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had no intention of accepting even the much-too-generous peace package Mr. Barak offered.

With Mr. Sharon, it's a whole new ball game. He can be like Richard Nixon in China, a man from so far on the other side that his own side trusts him to negotiate unlikely change. We know he won't give away the Temple Mount. He has a small house in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City.

Adding toughness to symbolism, Mr. Sharon has so far refused to shake hands with Mr. Arafat. Yet, after his landslide election, Mr. Arafat wrote to the prime minister-elect, congratulating him and offering peace talks: "Our hands will continue to be held out to make peace because both sides expect it." (Let's hope those hands aren't concealing a knife or a grenade.) Mr. Sharon, unlike Mr. Barak, demands "realistic peace."

Mr. Barak's humiliating defeat further exposes Bill Clinton's failures of foreign policy. Both Messrs. Clinton and Barak pushed negotiations too fast and too far, showing greater concern for their futures than for Israel's. Mr. Clinton wanted a legacy and Mr. Barak wanted re-election. Neither got what he wanted most. Mr. Clinton, in his zeal to be an "honest broker" for peace, lost an important opportunity to condemn the Palestinian Intifada which in turn put the "peace process" in jeopardy. He gave the Palestinians no incentive to end the violence.

The new Bush administration promises close cooperation with the new Sharon government but with a greater equanimity than the previous administration.

"This is a time to be patient," says Secretary of State Colin Powell, "to give the winner an opportunity to decide what kind of government will be formed. Jawboning is pretty much all we can do right now, and hope the leaders in the region recognize the absolute importance in controlling the passions, in controlling the emotions."

Mr. Sharon has lots of enemies inside and outside Israel. He is a flawed leader who has made mistakes. The War in Lebanon was particularly divisive. Saul Singer, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post (who lost a brother in Lebanon), reminds us and everybody else that "Israel's governments may have acted with lesser or greater wisdom, but always with the legitimacy granted by our democratic system." That's the reality that gives Ariel Sharon a chance to make real peace.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide