- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001

Ariel Sharon yesterday decisively defeated Ehud Barak to become the new prime minister of Israel. During five dramatic months of violence interrupted by diplomacy, Ariel Sharon was catapulted into his dream of a lifetime, the office previously occupied by two of his heroes, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. The cunning of history is that this election was more of a Barak loss than a Sharon victory. The misdeeds and errors of three individuals are responsible for Gen. Sharon s election: Yasser Arafat's violence, Mr. Barak's zigzags between diplomacy and retaliation, and Benjamin Netanyahu's decision not to run for PM.
Mr. Arafat has helped defeat two liberal Israeli prime ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak in a matter of five years. The electorate has rejected Mr. Barak, not the peace process. Seventy percent support the peace process. Mr. Barak, a straight-shooter, a courageous man, crossed the red line of Israel's security and Jerusalem's future at Camp David. He was supported by President Clinton and totally rejected by Mr. Arafat.
This brought upon immediate deterioration of the Barak government, the resignation of the foreign minister and the coalition parties. Since September 2000, the Barak government has been supported by fewer than 40 members of Knesset, and the attorney general correctly stated that the government could continue to govern legally, but it would be morally incorrect. Resigning as prime minister, Mr. Barak thought he could outmaneuver the more popular among the peace camp, Shimon Peres, the father (with Yitzhak Rabin) of Oslo. This maneuver was too clever by half, and has left him defeated as prime minister.
The last nail in the Barak coffin was hammered by his partner for peace negotiations, the head of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Mr. Arafat, who called the Barak government fascist. This, while progress was being made in Taba, Egypt, between Mr. Barak's peace team and the Palestinians.
Five months ago, neither Ariel Sharon nor Likud could have dreamed of calling for or winning an election. Mr. Barak had won the prime ministership by a resounding 56 percent of the electorate in 1999. Prime Minister Barak has created an image of a weak, insecure, indecisive Israel, and his chief of staff and the Israeli Defense Forces' high command have increasingly felt alienated and without guidance. Mr. Barak's political courage at Camp David was answered with Mr. Arafat's rejection and violence. Mr. Barak's subsequent zigzagging lost him the support of the peace camp and Arab Israelis.
Let no one be mistaken, as some are in the Israeli and American media, that Gen. Sharon represents the war party. Ariel Sharon, known to his supporters as Arik, has had a mercurial history. A courageous commander and leader, his military genius, prowess and aggressiveness brought him into confrontation with David Ben-Gurion (prime minister of Israel, 1948-1963) when Gen. Sharon launched a retaliatory operation against the then Jordanian village of Qibiya, which involved tens of civilian casualties and a serious confrontation between Israel, the United Nations and the West.
The war against the PLO in Lebanon (1982), conducted by Gen. Sharon as defense minister, advanced beyond the 40-kilometer limit set for ousting the PLO from southern Lebanon into occupied Beirut in defiance of Prime Minister Begin, with whom Gen. Sharon was not always candid. The sudden decline of Gen. Sharon's career followed his failure to prevent the fanatic Christian militias from the massacre of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon. The price was his resignation as defense minister as a result of the Kahan Commission investigation of the massacre and its recommendation that he never again serve as defense minister.
Since 1982, like Richard Nixon, Gen. Sharon has been engaged in rehabilitating his name and reputation. He did this in the area of politics, where he helped unify the Likud Party after the collapse of the Shamir government in 1992.
As a minister of commerce in the right-wing Shamir government, Gen. Sharon actually became "minister of settlements." Gen. Sharon, more than any other political leader in Israel (Labor or Likud), is responsible for the most intrusive, effective settlement policy. He went beyond the settlement quarters encircling East Jerusalem. He cut across the West Bank with settlements in such a way that no territorial contiguity between different parts of the West Bank could be re-established. Since Lebanon, Gen. Sharon has earned the animosity of the Israeli, American and international liberal left. Even though his admirers still call him King of Israel for his brilliant crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973, saving Israel from defeat, Gen. Sharon is the most maligned Israeli politician in Israel's 50-plus years of independence.
This election is the last hurrah for Gen. Sharon, who is 73. Having failed to achieve the highest office of the land since 1973, Gen. Sharon has become more philosophical, aware that his youthful adventures and military aggression could really bring about his political ignominy in the history of Israel. More than any other Israeli politician, Gen. Sharon is aware of the watchful eye of the Israel people, the United States and the international community, as well as the Arabs and Palestinians. His policies and actions will have dire consequences if they do not contribute to peace.
Gen. Sharon realizes, as all Israeli political and military leaders know, that peace for Zion is Israel's ultimate security. Utopian pipe dreams and aspirations cannot purchase security. Leadership calls for a mixture of strength and flexibility.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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