Only four months ago, the newly elected prime minister of Israel was a fading right-winger. Then came his well-publicized walkabout on what Jews call the Temple Mount and Moslems their Noble Sanctuary. It was an "in your face" challenge to the Arabs that may have touched off the intifada. And now, after more than four months of a grinding conflict with the Palestinians, Israelis have elected a hard-liner.
"A strong man, a ruthless man, a man who knows how to cope with the Arabs, knows how to talk to them by force," is the way Israeli columnist Uzi Benziman describes Sharon.
It's exactly this strong man image that makes Sharon wildly unpopular in the Arab world.
Sharon's record is indeed mixed. A brilliant field general, he was Israel's hero of the 1973 war with the Arabs.
But for the Arabs, and even many Israelis, he was the villain of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Hundreds of Palestinian refugees were slaughtered by Lebanese militia, and Sharon was fired as defense minister after being found indirectly responsible for the massacre.
In a successful attempt to soften his image, Sharon's campaign ads blanketed the country with warm and fuzzy pictures.
"It's this man, the man of the hour that can bring the forces together, that can offer solutions," pledged Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin.
Sharon's campaign aides insisted he had been demonized by his criticsAt age 72, he has shown it's possible to reinvent oneself.
Now that the polls were proven right, Israel and the world will get to see the real face of Ariel Sharon. Which kind of a leader he turns out to be may make the difference between peace and war in the Middle East.
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