- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The one thing Israelis have learned to expect from their prime minister and storm center is the unexpected. That’s why it was no surprise when Ariel Sharon took a new political tack last week, just as he so often struck out in the most unlikely direction on the battlefield.

Now the 73-year-old dynamo is founding still another political party in a country that seems to have one for every citizen. But the objective remains the same: a secure Israel.

Ariel Sharon has always held steady to a zigzag course:

He established any number of Israeli settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank only to oversee the dismantling of many over the years in hopes of trading them for peace.

He opposed the idea of a wall to assure Israel’s safety only to oversee its construction. Now he has broken away from a political party he helped found to form a new one. The man is nothing if not flexible.



It’s not that the old boy has no guiding principles. It’s that he has only one: Israel’s security. And he thinks nothing of subordinating all others to that single, overriding consideration. He is the always changing pragmatist enrolled in the service of one, unchanging idea: the survival of his country.

He never thought much of the Oslo Accords, which proved only an invitation to unceasing attacks and counterattacks, a k a the “peace process.” Instead he proposes a real peace — even if Israel has to establish it the same way it withdrew from Gaza: unilaterally.

Those who caricatured Ariel Sharon as some kind of ideologue when he first took the helm in Israel were to be surprised time and again, though they can scarcely be expected to admit it. He’s doubtless got a few more surprises up his ample sleeve.

The instrument he now proposes to fashion for his purpose is a new party that will create a governing center and isolate the ideologues on the left and right — much as, in the Yom Kippur War, he drove a wedge through two Egyptian armies and plunged across the Suez Canal to end that conflict. The name his latest party finally settled on? Forward, as befits a hard-charging old soldier.

Ariel Sharon clearly expects some other well-known names in Israeli politics to join him, including his old rival, partner, colleague and supporting actor Shimon Peres. The distinguished Mr. Peres has been around his country’s rambunctious politics since roughly the Davidian dynasty, but has yet to win the kind of popular support a national leader needs. He’s another of those smooth politicians, like the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev, who was always more popular abroad than at home, where he’s seen as, well, another of those smooth politicians.

The discreet Mr. Peres has never been entirely trusted in a political climate as uninhibited, not to say brawling, as Israel’s. One suspects Ariel Sharon is so popular because he’s so open and informal; he’s called Arik for short, the way Gen. Eisenhower was called Ike. One suspects Mr. Peres has never been as popular because, always the diplomat, he’s so formal. If he has a nickname, I’m unaware of it.

To say Israeli politics is a little wild would be like noting the OK Corral was a little active when Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the Clantons were trading lead there in 1881. In Israel’s mixed parliamentary and presidential system, political parties come and go like trains without a timetable — but always with lot of huffing and puffing. Derailments are frequent and you never know which politician will hook his hopes to which express.

Israel is a little country with a lot of commotion, where a mere crisis is everyday news. And the launching of a new party headed by the leader of the current governing one is just a one-day story. National elections are always pending or impending; this time they’re due in March. Until then, and maybe after if the results are close, all bets are off.

Arik Sharon is betting on Israelis to trust him again. Those who watch developments in the Middle East with hope despite its history will put their chips on the old, ever-young general and on an even longer shot — peace.

Hey, it’s the land of miracles, isn’t it?

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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