The Appeal of Realism
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was elected almost two years ago,
promising to bring peace and security. So far he has done
neither -- yet he was chosen by a large margin as leader of
the Likud and is the leading candidate for prime minister.
Sharon has now been in office for 21 months. This is long
enough to have a record of achievement or at least to show
progress. Peace is certainly not here and seems no closer
than it was when Sharon took over. Security has been worse in
the past, but the constant attacks and especially the murder
of 23 in one recent week in Chevron and Yerushalayim, mean
that Sharon has not yet delivered on his promise to provide
What about his performance on the economy? It was already in
decline when Sharon took over, but it has only gone downhill
from then. Everyone is hoping for things to turn around, but
no one can promise that the bottom has already been reached.
It could be worse, of course, but that truth is hardly likely
to win Sharon any support.
With all this so painfully obvious, why do the polls show the
Likud under Sharon doubling its strength in the Knesset?
Merely to say, as some observers do, that the Israeli
electorate has shifted to the right, does not explain it at
all. Binyamin Netanyahu, Sharon's rival within the Likud,
tried his hardest to be even more right than Sharon, and he
Moreover, Sharon's announced program if he is elected is just
for more of the same. He had not promised to take any
dramatic steps, and says that he hopes to bring peace but he
is very reserved on how he plans to achieve that.
Sharon's leading rival is Amram Mitzna, leader of the Labor
Party. Mitzna promises to bring peace and he is very clear
about how he will do so. He will open negotiations with
whoever is the leader of the Palestinians (including Arafat)
and he will withdraw and dismantle some settlements.
Netanyahu also said clearly what he planned to do: first of
all to expel Arafat, and then get tough with the
The trouble is that even those who believe that either of
these proposals is good, do not believe that either of these
politicians will actually do what they say they will do. As a
former general, Mitzna is hardly likely to withdraw in the
face of the strong opposition of the security establishment.
It is also no secret that Sharon would also like to get rid
of Arafat but has so far been unable to do so.
In short, Sharon promises nothing more than a continuation of
the current situation and efforts to improve it. Everyone
believes that he can deliver this. His rivals promise
dramatic solutions to all our ills, but no one believes that
they can deliver that.
People trust Sharon and know that he stands behind his word.
If he says peace with security, people are more confident
than with others that he will insist on both. US President
Bush also seems to trust Sharon. Although there appears to be
no special chemistry between the two, they do seem to have a
good working relationship. This relationship is very
important to Sharon.
A Labor party strategist said that Mitzna represents hope and
Sharon desperation, but he admitted that the country at this
time is more desperate than hopeful.
A Likud strategist might suggest that Mitzna represents
wishful thinking and Sharon realism. Right now it seems that
what the electorate wants is realism.
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