REFLECTIONS AND REACTIONS
TO SHARON'S VICTORY

By Bernard J. Shapiro

Ariel Sharon's landslide victory and emergence as Israel's Prime Minister has elicited a multitude of reactions around the world and in the Middle East. The very size of the victory at over 25 percentage points tempts one to interpret the meaning of this shift in the Israeli electorate. Prime Minister Ehud Barak had been elected 19 months earlier by a large majority. What had happened? Below are reflections and reactions to Sharon's victory:

PM EHUD BARAK Why He Lost

Barak was driven by a post-Zionist ideology that insisted that peace was possible with the Palestinians. Before the election, disappointed and angry, he told an interviewer:

"I learned a few things in the past nine months. Because we had these great experts on the Palestinians who knew for sure where you could cut a deal. But it turned out that they didn't know. They were wrong. Because the Palestinians really do have intransigent national attitudes. They have been in the struggle for 50 years and they are ready for another 20." PM Ehud Barak in a pre-election interview (Ha'aretz 2/2)

Because of his failure to provide personal security to Israelis by crushing the Palestinian violence, he was rejected massively at the polls. Barak also embarrassed Israelis by being a "door mat" for Arafat, negotiating while violence continued. His frequent threats to cut off negotiations proved phony and the Arabs laughed at him. His concessions to the Palestinians went way beyond the national consensus and still Arafat snubbed him and demanded more.

PRIME MINISTER ELECT ARIEL SHARON What His Election Means

Some observers have noted that this election was against Barak but not against the "peace process" or for Sharon. This is nonsense. The Israeli electorate came out massively to support Sharon and his policies of security and Zionism. It is true that many leftist and Arabs chose to boycott the election or use blank ballots but this does not diminish the victory of Sharon. In fact Sharon received nearly 70% of the Jewish vote which is unprecedented in Israel's 53 year old history.

Sharon staked out policies that were preferred by the Israeli electorate, like: unity of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, sovereignty over the Temple Mount and other Jewish Holy sites, control Israel's strategic territory including the Jordan Valley, and of course support for the Jews of YESHA. All this was understood by the electorate and they supported it instead of Barak's constant never ending concessions.

MEDIA REACTION

The media, both Israeli and international) looked at Sharon's landslide and launched into many varieties of faulty analysis:

1. First they told us that 69%of Israel's population still support peace. The implication was that Sharon would be forced to continue the Oslo negotiations. This is totally false. As an abstract, nearly everyone will say that they support "peace." It gets messy when you discuss the details. The brutal violence (pogrom) of the Palestinians and their anti-Semitic incitement against Jews (in their schools, TV, newspapers and sermons) has convinced a huge majority of Israelis that they are not a "partner for peace."

2. We are told that Sharon can not form a narrow right wing/religious coalition and must seek a unity government with Labor. We are also told that if he does form a narrow coalition it will be short lived due to internal contradictions. At the Freeman Center, we prefer a Zionist/religious coalition in order to maintain the goals of Sharon's election campaign. Diluting the government with the likes of Shimon Peres or Haim Ramon will defeat that purpose. In fact, in post election interviews, Labor leaders had the chutzpah to say their decision to join a Sharon government depended on his adopting their positions on the "peace process."

Israel faces very serious security challenges at home and diplomatic challenges abroad. It would be my fervent prayer that the Zionist/religious parties will give Sharon the opportunity to work without constant governmental crises.

3. We are told by the media that Sharon is dangerous, bloodthirsty and will provoke a war in the Middle East. We have also been told that he provoked the current violence in Israel. Poppycock. The truth is that the existence on one Jew in Israel or on the Temple Mount is considered a provocation by anti-Semitic Arabs. In our sovereign Jewish state, we do not need to ask anyone permission to live and breathe. Sharon has been a proud defender of Israel throughout his whole life. The media likes to point to the Sabra/Shatila massacre as a black mark against his name. But none of it is true: See below:

That's not what the Kohan Commission found: "We have no doubt that no conspiracy or plot was entered into between anyone from the Israeli political echelon or from the military echelon in the I.D.F. and the Phalangists with the aim of perpetrating atrocities in the camps ... We assert that in having the Phalangists enter the camps, no intention existed on the part of anyone who acted on behalf of Israel to harm the non-combatant population, and that the events that followed did not have the concurrence or assent of anyone from the political or civilian echelon who was active regarding the Phalangists' entry into the camps. . . . the direct responsibility for the perpetration of the acts of slaughter rests on the Phalangist forces " Source: The Beirut Massacre - The Complete Kahan Commission Report (authorized translation} Karz-Cohl Publishing, Inc.1983 {pp.54-55)

ARAB REACTION

The Arabs, especially, the Palestinians seem oblivious to how much they contributed to Sharon's stunning victory. In interview after interview they say that violence will continue until Israel surrenders to all of their demands. These demands would result in the destruction Israel and its replacement with Palestine. They don't seem to understand that Israelis were willing to try peace talks but reject suicide. They threaten to increase the violence with Sharon as Prime Minister but they are acting out violence every single day. There seems to be a serious disconnect in their policies.

They repeatedly tell reporters that they will only start negotiations where Barak left off at Taba. They seem not to understand that Barak had neither parliamentary or public support for the concessions he made at Camp David II and Taba. The Palestinian leadership is fooling itself if it thinks it can revert to previous offers they themselves rejected. As Abba Eban once said: "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

The Arab world is full of threats against Israel, but Sharon has never been afraid of threats. He will go about strengthening Israel's military and preparing it for any eventuality. You can also expect him to restore internal security and crush terrorism in Israel.

UNITED STATES REACTION

Both President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have warmly indicated that they will work with Sharon on regional Middle East issues. I believe that there will be much less pressure on the Palestinian-Israel negotiations and more on issues dealing with Irag, Iran and oil supplies. My gut feeling is that President Bush will not put pressure on Israel to comply with specific policy guidelines. I foresee cooperation on a multitude of strategic issues and a much greater flow weapons technology to Israel.

The one thing I worry about is the attempt to cast problems with the Palestinians as morally equivalent. Powell recently called for restraint to avoid an escalation of violence in the region. The violence is all of Arab origin so what is he saying? Israel should "turn the other cheek," not protect its soldiers and civilians, and not stop terrorism. This, by the way, is an international problem dating back 53 years. The United Nations regularly condemns Israel for acting in self defense. The immoral bias of the UN would cause me to reject every one of its resolution out of hand.

EUROPEAN REACTION

European leaders who grovel before the terrorist Arafat are urging Sharon to renew the peace negotiations despite the backdrop of continuing Arab violence. I suggest that he politely tell them to mind their own business.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The ascent of Sharon to Prime Minister is more than a reward for a lifetime in the service of his country. It is an opportunity for Israel to restore Zionism and Jewish pride. It is an opportunity restore Israeli military deterrence in the Middle East. Without such deterrence war would be more imminent. Sharon will prove that a tough stance on security issues, without appeasement, will win respect in the region and lead to a relaxation of tensions.

Where Barak wasted his time on the "peace process", I expect Sharon to devote time to solving Israel's socio-economic problems. He will try to bring together different parts of Israeli society, secular and religious, rich and poor, urban and rural, Ashkanzi and Sephardic.

The Freeman Center wishes Sharon success in his efforts for Israel. May he move from strength to strength.



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