Sharon wins in Israeli elections

Last week, Ariel Sharon won the Israeli election for Prime Minister. He defeated Prime Minister Ehud Barak by an astonishing 62.5 to 37.4 percent. The margin is “unprecedented in Israeli electoral history,” Deborag Sontag of The New York Times reported on Feb. 7.Sharon, who represents the right-wing Likud party, is an ex-general, nicknamed “the bulldozer.” CNN calls him “a barrel-framed veteran general who has built a reputation for flattening obstacles and reshaping Israel’s landscape.”

He is most widely known as the mastermind behind the Sept. 1982 killings of hundreds of Palestian refugees in Beirut. The UN Security Council condemned the action as an excessive use of force. Held indirectly responsible for the incident, Sharon left his position as general.

Last week’s election occurred because Barak stepped down, refusing to form a unity government with the Likud party. Elections commenced only two years after the previous elections in 1999.

General dissatisfaction with Barak led to the landslide victory.
Standing on a plastic chair, 50-year-old Dalia Nahum Israeli said, “Praise the Lord, the people of Israel have been saved from Barak …. The state of Israel will not be handed over to the Arabs. Barak groveled before the Arabs. Now there will be peace for the people of Israel.”

Hila Barbabash, a 25-year-old secretary from Jerusalem, said “We need a strong hand, otherwise it is the Arab’s nature to exploit our weaknesses …. But still he’s pretty extreme. I’m afraid of war.”
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted, “Mr. Sharon … has devoted much of his life to defending Israel … [and is devoted to] rebuilding Israel’s negotiating strength, restoring personal safety to its citizens and putting Israel back on a steadier, most certain path towards peace.”

The elections were received with low voter turnout, showing dissatisfaction with the candidates and the irregular elections. Only 62 percent of Israelis went to vote, as opposed to 80 percent in 1999.

“Many Israelis, on both sides of the political spectrum, think that these elections are completely unnecessary,” said Lili Galili of the Ha’aretz Newspaper in Israel. He interprets the low voter turnout and election of Sharon as an expression of anger.

Galili interviewed various people on the day before the election, and their anger was evident. “What can Sharon do differently? So little is after all really up to us…. The ways things are now, I’m not even sure I’ll vote at all,” said a taxi driver from Jaffa.
His friend notes, “People are very angry. Instead of the millions being blown away on elections that nobody needs, they should have taken care of the disabled and the elderly.”
Erez Abu, an 18-year-old draftee from Tel Aviv, held a sign that read “Feb. 7- prepare your bomb shelters.” He said, “My friends and I will be the chess pieces of Ariel Sharon’s great diplomatic game.”

Sharon visited the Al Aksa mosque in Jerusalem last fall with a cadre of soldiers. The controversial visit to the Palestinian holy mosque was on a Muslim holy day, angering many Muslims. It sparked Israeli-Palestinian violence, and Sharon was “accused of reckless provocation … by many world leaders.” This recent show of bravado makes many in the area concerned, many thinking Sharon deliberately invited violence.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian physician and political activist from Ramallah, said, “Are we to blame for who the Israelis choose?… They blame us when their soldiers kill our children. They blame us for the escalation. Now they blame us for not accepting for what they were trying to impose on us. And now they are trying to blame us for Sharon.”
“There is anxiety among the Palestinians given the man’s history,” said the senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath. “It seems that maybe he is not the man to advance peace, but rather to destabilize the region.”

Many in the United States are concerned as well. Alit Bedik, an Israeli student at Guilford, said that Sharon’s election “will change Israel in the worst possible way.”
Max Carter, director of Friends’ Center expressed similar concern. “I am saddened by the victory of Ariel Sharon and see it as a real setback in the progress towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.” Carter leads a work trip to Ramallah, Palestine each summer to witness the area and visit Ramallah Friends School. Tamara Asad, a Palestinian student at Guilford, is a graduate of Ramallah Friends School.

Jonathan Malino, professor of philosophy said, “the election results are dreadful. It is horrifying that a person with Sharon’s history and views is Prime Minister.” He also noted the extreme complexity of the politics. In an article for The Guilfordian on Nov. 3 , he urged the Guilford community to avoid the easy trap of misinterpreting the situation in the Middle East.

Sharon has approximately a month to form his government. If he is unable to do so, then elections will commence for a third time in two years.