New prime minister of
Israel faces challenges
must unite national government, restore peace
By Audrey Warren
Senior Staff Writer
With the largest margin of victory recorded
for the position, Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli prime minister last
week and promised to establish peace and restore safety for Israelis and
settlers in the Middle East after months of fighting and dispute with Palestinians.
Some Houston and UH officials expect Sharon
will try to accomplish his pledge by refraining from concessions made by
predecessor Ehud Barak and forming a viable unified Israeli government.
Adam Wiener, academic affairs officer at
the Israeli Consulate of Houston, said Sharon faces many barriers in seeking
an agreement with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat because of acts of terrorism
taken against Israelis.
"The position of government right now is
to not negotiate while terrorism is going on almost on a daily basis,"
He said Israelis have confidence in Sharon
and look to his crucial role in past peace agreements with Egypt in hoping
for peace in Israel and the Middle East.
Not everyone views Sharon's past as peaceful,
"Sharon is known for his being very tough
in the past against Arabs," said Bahaa Ghuneim, UH Arab-American Student
Association president and a senior mechanical engineering major.
He has committed several atrocities against
Arabs and Egyptians, he said.
"That's what makes him look, have such
a dark image to his neighbors," Ghuneim said.
Even among Israelis, the election of Sharon
as prime minister did not result from enormous support for the former foreign
minister although he did win by a landslide, Wiener said.
Sharon's victory came from a feeling of
frustration by Israelis with the current situation and impatience with
Barak, he said.
"I think the Israeli people are tired of
elections; they have had six different prime ministers in the last five
years," Wiener said.
The election was not so much a vote for
Sharon, but a vote against Barak, he said.
However, Sharon and Barak are different
men in what they are willing to give up, which is why Israelis elected
Sharon, Wiener said.
Israelis did not think Barak provided enough
deterrence to terrorists and believed he made many unprecedented compromises,
"When you have the most ancient synagogues
in Jerusalem being burned down, something has to be done," Wiener said.
Israelis are fed up with the security situation,
especially with the constant shooting every day, and they blamed Barak,
"In Israel, what can you do but elect a
leader who you believe can bring you more safety and deterrence?" Weiner
Israelis did not agree with Barak's offering
of about 95 percent of the West Bank or the Temple Mount to Palestinians
and the election reflected that, he said.
"Barak shocked the world with these concessions
and was not operating with the consensus of Israel," he said.
Many Israelis believe he gave up too much
without receiving enough in return from Palestinians.
Assistant UH economics professor Michael
Ben-Gad is a native Israeli and recently returned from the country.
"Essentially, Barak lost the election because
he made an enormous number of concessions," Ben-Gad said. "The minute he
made those concessions, he was politically dead."
Barak was willing to give up the West Bank,
and from a security standpoint that is a red line Israel cannot give up,
"People know Sharon will not make these
far-reaching concessions. Israel needs to restore its red lines … like
the Jordan Valley, the lines need to be drawn again," Wiener said.
Ghuneim believes Barak and Sharon are actually
very similar in their beliefs.
"Both prime ministers have the same objective,
they are just different in the way they conduct their work," he said.
Although Sharon does have what Ghuneim
calls a "tough past," he is optimistic Sharon may respond differently now
in his overall policy making.
Sharon may have changed since the past;
it is uncertain whether he will still have the same attitude towards the
situation, he said.
In the meantime, Sharon's first priority
will be to establish a national government unity.
Any negotiations will probably be put on
hold until a viable Israeli government is established, Wiener said.
Sharon has 45 days to establish government
and pass the budget. If he does not, a new election could be held, something
Ben-Gad feels is quite possible.
If Sharon can form a national unity government,
then he will be able to have a solid government, Ben-Gad said. "And he
has made every possible signal indicating he wants a national unity government."
Sharon was elected Feb. 6 and has until
about mid-March to form and establish his government.