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Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2001 / 2 Shevat 5761

Don Feder

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Without Sharon, Israel
hasn't got a prayer -- TEL AVIV | It took Ehud Barak to resurrect Ariel Sharon. Like Churchill in the 1930s, Sharon was seen as a man who once had promise but became an anachronism.

When the 72-year-old retired general took over as caretaker head of the Likud Party following former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's defeat, that should have capped his career.

Instead, the most controversial man in Israeli politics -- loathed by the left, blamed for Israel's protracted involvement in Lebanon -- has a double-digit lead over Barak in the Feb. 6 election to choose the nation's next prime minister.

Barak, who held the office for 17 months and continues as acting prime minister, has brought on Israel plagues of biblical proportions -- a war within its borders, Arab snipers firing into the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, bus bombings in Tel Aviv, settlements under siege, the Palestinians sparing no effort to shed Jewish blood. Last week, a 16-year-old boy was lured to Ramallah and murdered.

By offering Arafat concessions even the left considered unthinkable a year ago, Barak has whetted Palestinian appetites. His weakness and vacillation are palpable -- in response to the lynching of two Israeli soldiers, he engaged in urban renewal (bombing empty buildings). He ignores his pledge not to negotiate until the violence ends. He's convinced the terrorists they can squeeze him like a lemon -- his nickname among the Arabs.

First, there was his unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, then his offer to return almost all of the Golan to Syria for a phantom peace.

At Camp David, Barak pleaded with Arafat to take 96 percent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount (with certain provisos). He even conceded in principle a Palestinian right of return to pre-1967 Israel.

Russian immigrant leader Natan Sharansky, who was then a member of Barak's cabinet, had warned him, "You will bring back from Camp David not peace but war."

The prophesy was fulfilled. Arafat unleashed an unprecedented wave of violence that included a calculated campaign of atrocities against Israeli civilians.

And still Barak pursues his imaginary peace partner, now with marathon negotiations. Hoping a final settlement will turn the election, he's prepared to give Arafat everything short of the key to Tel Aviv.

Sharon is stunned. "I commanded the best units and formations in all of Israel's wars. We always won. But now we behave as if we've been defeated," he told me. "Israel has lost its national pride."

The old soldier added, "There is a war going on because they don't want us here." Here means Tel Aviv and Haifa as much as the West Bank and Gaza.

"I know the Arabs, and they know me, " Sharon says. "They know I mean what I say. They know I have red lines."

Under Sharon, Israel would end the transfer of territory, maintain Jerusalem as its eternal, undivided capital, keep the settlements and the Golan, and control the borders and air space of any Palestinian entity.

At a campaign rally, Sharon told supporters, "There's no peace without concessions." He later explained that the "painful concessions" he has in mind are letting Palestinians keep the land they presently control. "All those places are the birthright of the Jewish people."

Despite Sharon's candor, there are truths the nationalist camp won't speak -- that Arafat negotiates like Hitler, that any Palestinian state will be an advance position for the next conflict.

Therefore, the Israelis can have peace or security, but not both. The Jewish state will probably have to fight a war with the Arabs every decade (as it has for the past half century). And so, Israel should seize the next provocation for massive retaliation to eliminate Arafat's war-making capacity.

My last day in Jerusalem, I met an old man with the face of a prophet. It was pouring, and he had a hood over his head like a prayer shawl. (Israel is experiencing one of its periodic water shortages). "I prayed for rain, and here it is," he said. "May all of our prayers be similarly answered," I responded. He smiled, "To that I say, 'Amen."'

Ariel Sharon may not be the answer to all of Israel's prayers. But with him, Zionism at least will have one.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate