No more than three days went by from the time Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the public that Operation Defensive Shield had struck a decisive blow to Palestinian terror, with his spokespeople bragging of the restored sense of security that Sharon brought to citizens, before the terror attack in Adora once again proved that two resolute terrorists can sow death and dismay at will in an Israeli town.
The alibi Sharon made sure to use - his statement that individual terror attacks are still possible despite the achievements of Operation Defensive Shield - will not serve him over time. He bears final responsibility for running the country and he must answer for the results of his actions. It will do Sharon no good to claim that he received a very problematic inheritance from his predecessor. While that claim may have been valid in the initial months of his term, today Sharon must be measured by his own performance, not by the achievements or failures of Ehud Barak.
Moreover, Sharon asked for the trust of the electorate when the failure of Ehud Barak's policies was obvious to all. He was elected prime minister half a year after the intifada broke out. He knew what he was facing and nonetheless promised the public peace and security.
Since March 2001, responsibility for the government's successes and failures is his and his alone, and he no longer has the prerogative of placing it at anyone else's door. Being the dominant personality that he is, Sharon has clearly left his mark on government decisions. He is the man who for over a year has been leading the country to an increasingly serious conflict with the Palestinians. He is the man who has set in motion the aggressive responses to terror attacks. He is the man who urged the government to approve the policy of targeted killings, the deep incursions into Area A, the use of air force planes, the humiliation of Yasser Arafat, and in the last month, the reoccupation of West Bank cities and refugee camps, the isolation of Arafat and the imposition of a siege on the Church of the Nativity. For better or worse, the approach taken against the Palestinian uprising of the past year is Sharon's. The other actors - Shimon Peres, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer - are merely bit players.
Sharon must face the performance test - the extent to which his method proves successful, the extent to which it meets the expectations he created. He must explain, both to himself and the public, why during his term Palestinian terror has taken a toll in Israeli lives in unprecedented figures; why the country now finds itself isolated internationally unlike anything since the Sinai Campaign of 1956; why the economy is deteriorating to a state that resembles the recession of 1965-67; why the individual's vulnerability resembles the situation here in the 1920s and 1930s; and the public mood resembles that which preceded the Six Day War (but without the sense of relief and salvation that came with the outbreak of the war).
After all, in the past year, Sharon has had a free hand to do as he sees fit to extricate the country from the situation it is in. He even succeeded in carrying out the demands of the extreme right - to reoccupy West Bank cities and contend in this way with Palestinian terror. Why then is Israel in a worse state today than it was a year ago?
Sharon knows that the terror attack in Adora will be followed by others. Sharon realizes that despite all the efforts by the Israel Defense Forces and other security forces in Operation Defensive Shield, murderous Palestinian terror will continue to strike out against Israel within the Green Line, too. Sharon sees the link between the military campaign he initiated and the actions taken in international capitals, with a view to internationalizing the conflict. Sharon is aware of the connection between Israel's security situation and its economic, moral, psychological and political situation. Nonetheless, he is unable to see the inevitable conclusion: There is no choice but to end the occupation and abandon the territories. The results of this failure are his own, along with the responsibility for his failed leadership.
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