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In the perception of many people, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is a strong leader who is the right person for war-time periods. However, what Israel really needs at the present strategic juncture is a statesman with a vision who will lead the country out of its complex conflict, and not a power-obsessed leader because of whom the national cart is sinking ever deeper into the mire. Israel needs a statesman who will be capable of exploiting new international circumstances to resolve the conflict before the entire Middle East is contaminated with nuclear and biological weapons.

During his nearly two years as the country's leader of the country, Sharon has not even neared the status of a statesman who looks beyond war. The result is that under his leadership, Israel is sliding down a steep slope. A similar development has occurred on the Palestinian side, under their leader, PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, but that is no consolation. The downtrodden Palestinians are farther from realizing their national aspirations, but Israel has regressed in almost every sphere, and there is not a glimmer of light on the horizon.

An analysis of Sharon's tenure as prime minister does not hold out any prospect that he will extricate Israel from the two intertwined crises - the economic crisis and the security crisis - in which the country finds itself. Israel is becoming poorer as are many of its citizens. Israel is finding it difficult to bankroll the war; even now the defense budget is being managed with a wink and is breaching the state budget.

From the security point of view, the failure is even greater. Never, with the exception of the War of Independence, which went on until January 1949, has Israel's ongoing security situation been so bad. In the past two-and-a-half years, more Israelis have been killed than in any other period, and not necessarily on the front, but on the country's streets. No other nation is experiencing anything like this. The occupation of the territories and of the Palestinian people - from whom, it is true, the suicide murderers originate - has become more intense and uglier. The same tendency will prevail in the future. Even when the IDF and the Shin Bet security service achieve a tactical military success, Sharon is incapable of exploiting it for the next step, in the political realm. It is in this context where Sharon's lack of being a statesman-leader is most pronounced. The struggle with the Palestinians has become a war of revenge and prestige, in which the victories on the battlefield slowly dissolve into nothing. On the ground, the settlers are deepening their grip and adding new outposts with a variety of stratagems. Is there anyone who believes that this situation can be dragged out indefinitely?

The Palestinians are losing more in tactical terms and from the point of view of day-to-day suffering, but in the present state of affairs, Israel is not capable of arriving at a decisive battle against them. The reason is not military, but above all political. Israel is incapable of accumulating more victory points, because it does not have a political initiative beyond the occupation. Hints that Sharon has some sort of political plan to resolve the conflict have turned out to be no more than baubles. His political initiative has not gone beyond the mantra that he is ready for painful concessions (painful for whom?). The Americans, too, are trying in vain to find a political initiative by Sharon.

To be fair, we should not ignore several changes that have occurred in Sharon over the years. The most striking of these is that he has retracted his declaration and plan to the effect that "Jordan is Palestine." He understands that Jordan's existence in its current regime is of strategic importance. Another change is his acceptance of the principle that a Palestinian state will ultimately be established, even though under Sharon's terms it will be a mini-state without the ability to sustain itself. The third change stems from his understanding, which he did not have during his tenure as defense minister at the beginning of the 1980s, that without the cooperation of the United States he is doomed to fail. He also realizes that he has to base himself on a broad national consensus and not only on the extreme right. However, he appears to be looking for a consensus not for a political initiative but to go on prosecuting a war of revenge and prestige.