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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 21:08 GMT
Sharon speech: More of the same
Ariel Sharon
Sharon: Criticised by left and right
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By Paul Reynolds
BBC world affairs correspondent
As a soldier, Ariel "Arik" Sharon had one tactic - attack.

As a paratroop commander in the 1950s, leading Unit 101 he attacked Palestinian guerrillas; during the 1956 Sinai campaign, he attacked the Egyptian army, at one point recklessly; in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, he attacked across the Suez canal and in 1982 he attacked into Lebanon, right up to Beirut.

He helped develop the doctrine the Israelis had learned from the sympathetic British officer Orde Wingate in the 30s - attack is the best form of defence.

It was obvious that when he became prime minister, his basic instincts would not change.

He fundamentally believes that his way brings results.

More attacks

His problem is that he has not brought results since he became the Israeli leader. Violence has increased and security has diminished - for both sides.

He is now coming under criticism from right and left within Israel.

The speech is unlikely to satisfy his critics, it basically offers more of the same, more attacks

The right want him to do more - to remove Yasser Arafat, to reoccupy the Palestinian territories. The left want him to change course - to reopen talks, to de-intensify the conflict, to agree a Palestinian state on the borders as they were in 1967.

His speech on Thursday evening was an attempt to hold the line and try to show that he knew what he was doing - that he had a plan, that with patience and unity, all would be well.

The speech is unlikely to satisfy his critics. It basically offers more of the same... more attacks.

No grand vision

It was phrased in familiar language: "We will not negotiate under terror."

It was a rallying call to the Israeli people. He conjured up visions of the early pioneers and declared that this generation, too, knew how to struggle.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat inspects the damage to his Ramallah headquarters after the Israeli strike
Much will depend on whether Arafat can deliver on his latest ceasefire
Yet he knew that he had to propose something more. There had to be a political dimension.

He is no longer just a soldier fighting a war - he is a politician trying to reach a peace.

He spoke of reaching an agreement if there was a ceasefire, though he seemed to place more confidence in a new security zone which is to be set up along sectors of the border.

He referred to the "painful concessions" which he was prepared to make but did not spell these out.

There was no grand vision of two states coexisting and no path was mapped out to reach that goal.

He outlined his conditions but proposed little for the other side.

Glimmer of hope?

This was not the kind of speech the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made when he offered peace to Israel, nor the kind of language used by the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin or even Menachem Begin when they shook hands with their former adversaries at the White House.

It was the speech of a leader who is being hemmed in on all sides yet who feels he has no other options but to carry on.

Sharon has not closed the door, but it is only slightly open

Whenever leaders in crises call for unity, you know they are calling on their critics to be quiet.

But critics do not do that, especially in Israel.

Was there a glimmer of hope in the speech?

It takes two to make peace, just as it takes two to make war and much will depend on whether Yasser Arafat can deliver on his latest ceasefire.

Mr Sharon has not closed the door, but it is only slightly open.

On a recent visit to Jerusalem, I found people there, in both communities - for the first time in my experience - without hope.

I did not get the impression from this speech that Mr Sharon has much hope himself.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Sharon vows to defeat 'terrorism'
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israelis look for key to peace
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Dissent in the ranks
18 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel reservists back occupation end
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Yasser Arafat's dilemma
16 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Fear and pride in Ramallah
20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Palestinian militants 'change tactics'
21 Feb 02 | Middle East
Divided voices over MidEast
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