Jewish World Review Feb. 9, 2001 / 16 Shevat, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ON Tuesday, the Israeli people decided. Faced with the choice of re-electing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak or throwing him out of office in favor of Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon, the overwhelming majority of Israelis chose the latter.
The reason for this result -- which, as recently as only a few months ago, would have been considered impossible -- is no great mystery. The feeling of insecurity and helplessness engendered by the Israeli government’s decision to continue negotiating concessions even as Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat’s own forces conducted attacks on Israelis ensured that Barak’s term in office would be brief. The Israeli public rightly saw such concessions, especially those on Jerusalem, as rending the heart of Israel while not achieving peace.
That’s why they have elected Ariel Sharon prime minister in a landslide victory of historic proportions.
The blame for Barak’s debacle must also be given to his primary “peace” partner -- Arafat. Barak offered him a Palestinian state with more than 90 percent of the West Bank and much of Jerusalem, including the majority of the capital’s Old City. Given the choice of the maximum possible achievements for the Palestinians or a return to violence, Arafat chose war. If, in the future, Palestinians look back to the year 2000 with regret, they’ll have no one to blame but their feckless leader, who chose to pander to the irredentist sentiments of his people rather than leading them to peace.
As for Israel’s new prime minister, he faces a difficult task. Barak’s blunder in calling a special election was predicated on his belief that at 72, Sharon was too old, too right-wing and too burdened by the baggage of his controversial past -- namely, the Lebanon war -- to have a chance against him. This was a crucial mistake.
Ariel “Arik” Sharon has spent a lifetime in the service of the state of Israel in both military and political roles. Having waited so long to ascend to the top spot, this military hero and veteran politician ought not to be underestimated or put down as an extremist. Though he has been unfairly labeled a “war criminal,” his career has been marked by much pragmatism and a willingness to make painful sacrifices for the sake of peace. His support of the 1978 Camp David Accords, his evacuation of Israeli settlements in the Sinai and his role in negotiating the 1998 Wye peace accord all testify to this.
But the legacy of Lebanon will mean that Sharon will almost certainly be subjected to an unprecedented barrage of bashing from the international media, as well as from his many bitter left-wing Jewish foes. This may also mean that American Jews and their leading organizations will be slow to give him the political and moral support that other Israeli leaders have taken for granted.
This ought not to be the case. Too often in the recent past, American Jewish organizations have taken on the role of cheerleaders for Labor governments while sitting on their hands when Likud is power. The election of an Israeli prime minister by a staggering 61 percent of Israelis should remind liberal American Jews that their pro-Oslo mindset is currently out of touch with the Israeli mainstream.
While no individual American Jew should hesitate to express his opinion about this Israeli leader (or any other), the Jewish community owes Sharon a fair chance to succeed. Whatever any of us here might think about Sharon -- just as many were appalled by Barak’s policies -- we need to show some deference to the will of the people of Israel. Barak’s defeat is a clear message. Israel’s voters have rejected a pursuit of peace that does not also guarantee Israel’s security and its rights to its capital.
This is a verdict that should be heeded not only by Israel’s leaders, but by the U.S. government and American Jews. Arafat may be hoping that American and European dislike for Sharon will increase support for the P.A.’s unreasonable positions. He should not get any help in this campaign from American Jews. Despite his tremendous victory, in the coming months Sharon will have his hands full dealing with a fractious parliament and a Palestinian Authority bent on getting its way via bloodshed. He should not also have to fight a rearguard action against American Jews.
The early indications are that the new Bush administration is prepared to deal fairly with the democratically elected leader of Israel and to continue the special alliance between the two countries. Indeed, the change from a Barak-Clinton relationship which was predicated on Israeli concessions aimed at making the would be Nobel Peace laureate Clinton look good, to a Sharon-Bush duo may be all to the good for Israel. Unlike his predecessor, Bush may be less likely to try to exert pressure on Israel to give in to the Palestinians. American Jews should not to try to disrupt this entente.
Having won a mandate to take Israel on a different path, Ariel Sharon will
deserve the help and prayers of all of Israel’s American friends. Let's hope