- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

The Palestinian Authority and the Israeli people are preparing for a win by Likud leader Ariel Sharon in Israel's elections for prime minister today, though many Israelis are boycotting the election. "We prefer the Messiah," a young Hasidic man named Aham told The New York Times. "But at the moment we don't have the Messiah." So they'll likely vote in the man who marched to the hotly disputed religious site, the Temple Mount. In a time when they've seen their holy sites and their land being gambled away by Ehud Barak, the incumbent prime minister who resigned, there's something ruggedly reassuring for the Israelis about a man such as Mr. Sharon who is willing to do the unthinkable for the sake of making a statement about Israel's sovereignty.

On the day before the election, 76 percent of those answering a Jerusalem Post poll said they would vote for the Likud leader. A survey by Tel Aviv University indicated that 53 percent of the Jewish public believes Mr. Sharon would advance the peace process and guard Israel's security, while only 27 percent believed the same of Mr. Barak. And indeed, the difference between the two leaders couldn't be greater. The final days before the election found Mr. Barak trying to woo the Arab vote and apologizing to them four months too late for riots in the Arab sector of Jerusalem which left 13 dead. Mr. Sharon was meanwhile preparing his executive policy toward the Palestinians.

Unlike Mr. Barak who allowed the Palestinians and Bill Clinton to pressure him into giving concessions first, and to wait for paybacks later Mr. Sharon vowed to come in to office and to negotiations with the "red lines" drawn. In order to create their own state, the Palestinians would have to meet the following conditions: The state would have to be the result of a mutual agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians; Israel's security interests must be protected; the state must be demilitarized; and the Palestinians must understand that an agreement with Israel would mean a lasting end to the conflict. Mr. Sharon can expect that before he can make the Palestinians concede to the four conditions, which he outlined in the French journal Le Figaro, the Arab world will have to be convinced Israel has its interests at heart as well.

The violent Islamic group Hamas is already looking forward to a victory for Mr. Sharon because it believes it will unify the Arab world against Israel. If Mr. Sharon wins today, he should not let this kind of pressure make him compromise Israeli security, as Mr. Barak often did. The new American administration would also be well-advised to back this position of strength. Nothing else has worked so far.

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