Courtesy Reuters

The Last of the Patriarchs

THE BULLDOZER

Just over a year ago, on March 7, 2001, Ariel Sharon took office as Israel's eleventh prime minister, having beaten his predecessor, Ehud Barak, in a landslide. Sharon's election seemed like the ultimate expression of Israeli anger, the choice of a public frustrated by the stagnation of the peace process and the violence of the second Palestinian intifada. After all, Sharon, known as "the Bulldozer," was the ultimate hard-liner: the builder of the settlements and a warrior who had fought the Arabs for more than 50 years. Indeed, Sharon had been responsible for some of the most controversial acts in Israel's military history, including its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Now finally at the helm, he vowed not to negotiate under fire and to fight until terror was defeated. Only then, he promised Israelis, would he make what he called "painful concessions" for peace.

Conditions in Israel are now even worse than when Sharon took office. Palestinian terror attacks occur almost daily and have killed more than 250 Israelis in the past year. Israel has responded with a mix of economic sanctions and escalating military actions. These strikes have included recent, massive incursions into cities and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza with tanks, troops, and helicopter gunships; Israel even temporarily reoccupied Ramallah with a division-size force. Although more than 640 Palestinians have already been killed in the last year, however, the war of attrition continues with no end in sight. Only a delicate combination of mutual deterrence and international pressure has prevented this low-grade confrontation from exploding into an all-out war.

Meanwhile, Israel's economy has fared no better. Growth has ground to a halt, unemployment has shot up, and the shekel has dropped in value. Israel's man of action has seemed virtually paralyzed in the face of economic and political crises.

And yet even with a national disaster looming on two fronts and no apparent solutions, Sharon remained extremely popular during his first year in office. His job approval rating generally stayed between 50

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