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What are you doing to us, Ariel Sharon? In the final recaps of previous years, many commentators would liken you to a political thug. You were, in essence, the archstrongman of public life in Israel: the guy who would stir up countless provocations and bloody acts of vengeance; the fellow who quarreled with his commanders and his colleagues under fire; the one who has taken a big flying kick at nearly every government in Israel since he entered politics, grabbing the microphone from one prime minister, inciting against another, seizing the steering wheel that had slipped out of the hands of a third, threatening a deputy prime minister (Professor Yigal Yadin): "Mr. Deputy, I will strip you buck naked on the cabinet table," after Yadin raised his eyebrow at settlements that were established in a move that circumvented the ministerial settlement committee. You, Sharon, who at that same cabinet meeting even took a swing at prime minister Menachem Begin: "I've remained at your side for the past two years, but I will not do so on this subject, on the settlements! This is a national issue! And on this point, I will not give in. No way!" And in the meantime, between Beirut and your visit to the Temple Mount you've set off two wars, just for the fun of provocation and escalation.

What should we say, Sharon? Is there anyone else in the entire democratic world that even comes close to you in terms of scale of brutal militancy, and contempt for conventions of law and order?

So how did it happen? How is it that you suddenly turned into the great hope of all that is Israeli? How it is that you became the object of veneration and general embrace, including that of the most refined and bleeding-heart leftists of all?

The ostensibly simple explanation: You changed your mind. You saw the light, got to the point from which "the things you see from here you cannot see from there." And if the bulldozer switched direction, why shouldn't the others harness your horsepower to their benefit, with the came cynical utilitarianism that you yourself practiced in bygone days?

True, we had to rub our eyes and our ears to believe that it was you, and not Yitzhak Rabin,

delivering that speech at the UN General Assembly, that you, not Yossi Beilin or even Uri Avnery, was behind lines like "It is not possible to have a Jewish and democratic state and also control all parts of the Land of Israel," which you were about to say at the Likud Central Committee, standing at that microphone that was so very symbolically switched off.

Why symbolically? Because the incident only drove further home the realization of how the political scene around you - if not in Israel, then in general - has progressively become so violent and brutal that, in comparison to it, even you seem decent. Because in comparison with the Likud Central Committee, the hilltop youth, the Bibis, the Israel Katzes, and even the Olmerts that back you ("I can go a few rounds with Danny Naveh, even without you," he told a radio interviewer this week) that relative to them, you look as refined and elegant as a Fred Astaire dance routine.

"I haven't changed; it's you who have changed," you said when your popularity as prime minister was only beginning to soar. Not entirely true. You changed, or to be more exact, you changed your mind. But did you really change your spots? Did you undergo a metamorphosis the likes of which are hitherto unknown in nature? Not really, for even the disengagement was executed with the same exact and consistent brutality with which all of your previous acts and actions were done. The only thing that changed was the direction.

So maybe it isn't only you, Sharon, but us, too? After all, the same exact conclusions that you so belatedly reached have been voiced for years, nay, for decades - in the same exact words - by blatantly nonmilitant, polite, civilized, even (heaven forbid!) intellectual political parties and people. But these leftist geeks were met with scorn and derision, and were thrown out time and time again by the Israeli voter. Why? Because this people has been inured to such heavy doses of brutality that it is prepared to accept news of the redemption only when it comes from the mouth of the biggest bully in the neighborhood.