Author:Darwish, Adel

The controversial hawkish Israeli warrior, General Ariel Sharon, has been appointed to the post of foreign minister -- left vacant since the resignation of David Levy over increasing political rivalry with the Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, in January this year.

Coming on the eve of the Washington peace meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the appointment had different interpretations inside and outside Israel. The divisions were not on the lines of Sharon's popularity -- for all agree that he is a shrewd politician and a respected warrior, but diplomat he most certainly is not.

Deciphering Mr Netanyahu's choice is proving a popular pastime. Does he want the right to line up behind Sharon to implement a peace agreement? Or was he simply making sure that "the final status negotiations with the Palestinians [in line with Oslo accords] will never take place," as opposition Labour Party leader, Ehud Barak, charged? Mr Sharon attacked the Oslo peace accords as "terrible and dangerous" and condemned the late Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin's, negotiating partner, Yasser Arafat, as a "war criminal", with whom he would never "shake hands, no matter what the outcome of the Washington meeting".

He angrily opposed any diplomatic discussions of the return of even an internationally demilitarised Golan Heights to Syria. He holds the belief that returning more than nine per cent of territory to Arafat would endanger Israel's national security.

"What is the point of the whole peace process?" asked labour Member of Knesset Uzi Baram rhetorically. "We were trying to forge a conciliation between two peoples, and now Sharon has been brought in. He is clearly not a believer in conciliation."

Meretz Party leader, Yossi Sarid, described Sharon as "the king of cynicism and opportunism" and decried the whole negotiating process as nothing but a "circus."

His views were shared by the Arabs who remember Sharon as responsible for the massacre of hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Southern Beirut in September 1982. Although Christian Lebanese militia actually carried out the killings, it was widely believed they had first reached some kind of tacit understanding and it is certainly true that Israeli troops posted around the camps did nothing to stop it.

General Sharon was fired from his post of defence minister the following year after an Israeli commission of inquiry found him indirectly...

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