It is said of Ariel Sharon that he is happy in his position of prime minister - not only because of the sweet revenge of someone who had been ostracized for so many years and has now become a sought-after figure (almost) everywhere, but also because of the sense of sheer power embodied by the position.
Sharon does indeed look like one who is enjoying every minute: He has acquired a glow that has not been seen in the past; and he has also declared that he intends to make the most of his term in office and to be reelected for a full second term.
It is difficult to comprehend just what Sharon is so happy about and why he would want to be elected for another term. He received a country in a difficult situation, and ever since, matters have continued to deteriorate, without the prime minister showing any indication that he intends to, or even can, bring it to an end. The armed conflict with the Palestinians is escalating; tourism is a thing of the past; and the plight of the poor is worsening. What then justifies the prime minister's satisfaction?
Sharon has set no target, no date for the end of this bitter crisis in which the state is so deely embedded. He asks his citizens to be patient and denounces those who lament the situation, yet he cannot point to any dim ray of light on the horizon.
He is sorely mistaken if he thinks that he will be able to hold onto the public's support, which he enjoys at the moment, with such results. The nation is in need of a vision, of hope, of an inspiring leader to guide the country out of a dire national crisis - and Sharon does not offer any of these.
Sharon's principal mistake is accepting the current situation as a given and not even attempting to change it. He sees himself in the position of a crisis manager, and not as someone who aims to get to the bottom of the crisis and resolve it. He concentrates instead on the hunt for specific solutions to situations that develop and does not speak of the need, nor the possibility, to bring about a drastic change. He acts in such a way because thinking of the conflict with the Palestinians in strategic terms would clash with his basic beliefs, or would force him to come to difficult conclusions that he appears ill-prepared to deal with.
Sharon's admirers choose to liken the prime minister to those famed rebel leaders Judah the Maccabee or Bar Kochba. Sharon, however, is more like a confused Levi Eshkol, in the run-up to the Six-Day War. The prime minister appears as someone who does not know what to do with the crisis situation that was thrust into his hands six months ago. He is imprisoned by a web of contradictions and does not dare to choose sides.
In principle, he has two ways to drag this country out of the mud - through might or by means of diplomacy. One could say that the best way to crush the Intifada is with military force. To do this, one must define the Palestinian Authority as the enemy and order the Israel Defense Forces to use all its might to put an end to the violence the PA perpetuates. But Sharon has not chosen this path - either because he knows that no military force can put an end to the Palestinian war of liberation, or because he is retrained by political, operational, international and, perhaps, even moral pressures.
For similar reasons, he is also limited in his ability to fight the Palestinian uprising through collective punishment.
The second channel, the diplomatic one, is also blocked to Sharon, since he would then be forced to make the decisions he is trying so hard to avoid - such as those concerning the future of the settlements - and also because the Palestinians would lobby not only for the end to the 1967 occupation, but also to rectify the wrong done to them in 1948.
But there is also a third way, which Sharon is trying to dodge as well - an active separation that would break the status quo and bring about a new diplomatic-security reality as well as different rules for the Israel-Palestinian relationship.
To chose this course of action, the virtue of de Gaulle would suffice.
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