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Via Dolorosa:A monologue about the Middle East written and performed by David Hare.
Hardliner Ariel Sharon has declared victory in Israel's special election for prime minister.
"Israel has entered a new path ... the path of security and true peace," Sharon told supporters. Citing the need for compromises, he urged Palestinians to end "the way of violence" and called on Barak to join him in a broad-based coalition government.
He also said President Bush had telephoned with congratulations.
Sharon, chairman of the right-wing Likud Party, beat the former prime minister, Ehud Barak by about 25 percentage points.
Although the Israeli economy has been in a slump for several years, neither candidate said much about economic or social issues. The main issue in this election was Israel's relationship with the Palestinians, the Arabs who lived on the land before the state of Israel was created in 1948.
This ancient conflict over land and self-government has intensified recently, with more than 375 people killed in clashes over the past four months. Palestinians, who say they are living under a hostile Israeli occupation, want at least some of their land back and they are willing to fight and die to get it. Palestinians also want more freedom to govern themselves, instead of being subjects of the Israeli government.
Two different futures...
The two men vying for leadership of Israel had very different ideas on how to solve this problem. Sharon, 72, is a former military general active in several of Israel's past wars. He is known for taking a hard line against the Palestinians, and favoring military solutions rather than diplomatic compromise. In his military career he led raids against Arab settlements and planned Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. His tough manner has earned him the nickname "Bulldozer."
Sharon has suggested in the past that Israelis and Palestinians should exist in two separate, non-cooperating countries. This would mean an end to the negotiations that have gone on for decades in search of a land-sharing agreement. But as the election approached, Sharon tried to soften his image as a war "hawk" and took a more moderate stance.
Barak, 58, is also a military man. In fact, he's Israel's most decorated war hero. But he is seen as a "dove," someone who favors compromise and peace rather than military might.
Ever since he was elected prime minister 18 months ago, Barak had been working hard on negotiations with the Palestinians, often moderated by U.S. leaders like former President Clinton. Barak says he believes in sharing the disputed land with Palestinians, and allowing them to govern themselves.
But it hasn't been easy. In fact, talks at Camp David near Washington DC collapsed last July with no agreement. And as the violence continues to rage, some people have lost patience. Israelis and Palestinians have been negotiating on and off for nearly 50 years. And some people think peace might never be reached.
Sharon says he will not honor any peace agreement Barak may sign with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He also has listed several key points on which he will not compromise. He will not share control of Jerusalem -- a city sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike.
He also said he won't give in to Palestinian demands that Palestinians refugees be allowed to return to their former homes in land that now belongs to Israel. Sharon also opposes letting Palestinians have administrative control of the Temple Mount, where Jewish and Muslim holy sites lie one on top of another.
That's where Sharon went last September, in a bold move that seemed meant to prove a point. Palestinians interpreted the high-profile, military-style visit as a violation of Palestinian sovereignty and a cultural slap in the face. Riots erupted the next day at the Mount, West Bank and Gaza Strip and guerrilla attacks have continued sporadically for more than four months.
In addition, Sharon has given no indication he would offer the Palestinians additional territory - a position that may make a future agreement impossible. He advocates a long-term permanent arrangement with the Palestinians and opposes the peace settlement that Barak pursued.
Many people think Sharon as prime minister could mean an end to negotiations with the Palestinians and increasingly violent protests against Israeli soldiers and settlers in Gaza and the West Bank.
Others point out that Sharon, as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's foreign minister, helped negotiate previous peace agreements with the Palestinians. Sharon was supported by many Israelis who feel he will help Israel hold on to its territory and protect the legacy of a Jewish state.
Barak in trouble
Barak had pledged to submit any peace agreement to a vote by all the citizens of Israel. Like Sharon, he does not want to let Palestinian refugees return to Israel. But he has agreed to the overall concept of a plan put forward by former President Clinton, which includes giving Palestinians some control of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and other territory where they currently live.
Although Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also agreed in principle to Clinton's plan, no settlement has been reached. President Bush has not yet become involved in the process.
Most Israelis still hope that peace can be negotiated, but some are uneasy about Barak's management of the process, especially after the breakdown of the peace talks at Camp David with President Clinton last summer. Many wanted him to insist on an end to the violence before he sat down at the negotiating table. He has been actively seeking a peace agreement recently with hopes that resulting good feelings would help him win the election.
Palestinians are worried
Palestinians said the election was an internal Israeli matter, and did not officially express a preference for either candidate. But privately, most hoped Barak will win. Palestinian spokesman Yasser Abed said Arab Israeli voters "should not give Sharon the chance to win the election."
"There must be a wide coalition against Sharon not after he wins, but before, and from all the powers that want to protect and take care of the peace process," he said.
Palestinians had more to gain with Barak. He had shown more willingness to compromise than any prime minister in Israeli history. Issues that were once so controversial they could not be discussed calmly are now on the table for debate. Now, it is possible that the peace process might end, or at least take much longer.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat recently said in a radio address that he still hopes a peace deal can be worked out. "We are looking to achieve the real peace between the two people," he said.
During the same broadcast, Barak said that the Palestinian leader's comments proved "how close we are to a peace accord, provided that we accept the principle I believe in, two countries for the two peoples."
Sharon denounced the concessions that Barak offered to the Palestinians in the current talks, and made it clear he would not honor them if he won the election.
What do you think? How would you have voted in this election if you were an Israeli? A Palestinian?
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