ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON will go to the polls in March as leader of the new Kadima (Forward) Party. After a chequered history which has seen him variously labelled as a warhorse, a hero, a manipulator and a murderer, could it be that this unlikeliest of politicians will be the one to finally bring peace to the Palestinians as well as to his own beleaguered people?
ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Arid Sharon is known, to friend and foe, by many names; the most descriptive of which is 'the Bulldozer', based on his method of negotiating all obstacle courses he encounters, whether in war or in politics.
In the 1973 Yum Kippur war he surprised the enemy and even his own commanders by crossing the Suez Canal, when the order had been given to re-group in Sinai to face a massive surprise Egyptian attack across the Canal. His manoeuvre had little military value but it was a great political and propaganda coup.
A decade later he misled Israel's then prime minister Menachem Begin (who unknowingly misled US Secretary of State Alexander Haig) over operation 'Peace in Galilee', which ended with the invasion of the south of Lebanon (an occupation which lasted for 18 years) and all the way up to Beirut and the refugee camp massacres that cost Sharon his job, as a defence minister, and put him in the political deep freeze for many years.
Some weeks ago, instead of negotiating the obstacle courses--created by rebels in his own Likud party holding faithfully to his previous hard-line of defending illegal settlements and dealing harshly with the Palestinians--he decided to bulldoze a new course for himself.
Only a few days earlier, commentators described the Sephardic, old fashioned trade unionist Amir Peretz's victory over the nation's elder statesman Shimon Peres for the leadership of the, historically left of centre mainly Ashkenazi, Labour Party, as "an earthquake".
Sharon's surprise re-drawing of Israel's political map overnight left the same commentators struggling to find a suitable geological metaphor. Personally, I would happily settle for 'Sharon's bolt of lightening, similar to the one that brought life to Dr Victor Frankenstein's mythical creation'.
Sharon's surprise political action jolted the region's policy-makers, somehow re-incarnating the 'politics by electric shock' introduced to the region by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. History records very few prime ministers who resigned from their ruling party to form a new one, but both...