November 23, 2005 | New York Daily News

Israeli PM Bulldozing His Way to History

By: Richard Z. Chesnoff.

They don't call Ariel Sharon “The Bulldozer” for nothing. In a move that may reshape the Mideast map, the Israeli prime minister dramatically announced this week that he was plowing through Israel's convoluted coalition politics by dumping his right-wing Likud bloc, pushing aside the leftist Labor Party and mounting a new Israeli centrist party. As “Arik” put it to friends: “I don't have any time to waste.”

He's right. At 77, Sharon is among the last of Israel's founding generation heroes. And the aging soldier/politician wants his legacies to include a decisive agreement on the Jewish state's international borders.

Sharon's first step in that direction came last August when Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and four small Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank. Both moves infuriated his own Likud Party. A growing band of rebels announced plans to block any more significant territorial compromises with the Palestinians – no matter how much that might help bring about peace. As for Sharon's opponents in the left-leaning Labor Party, they demand even wider-ranging territorial concessions than Sharon is ready to consider.

Sharon wants something in-between: holding on to enough of the West Bank to ensure an Israel with truly secure eastern borders, while giving up enough to satisfy the Palestinian leadership as well as the West (especially the United States).

Sharon, who helped shape Israel's armed forces and fathered Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, is the only current Israeli leader strong enough to accomplish this mission.

But it won't be easy. Sharon is smack up against a few other political tough guys. Moreover, third parties have traditionally flopped on Election Day in Israel. Still, Sharon may change all that. Within hours of his announcement, polls indicated that his third party would win at least a quarter of the seats in the parliamentary election scheduled for March. He's also attracting a star-studded array of Israeli political figures from both right and left. And, according to the polls, two-thirds of all Israelis back a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. Those are the voters Sharon is after.

The Bulldozer usually gets what he wants. The history book is waiting.