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Sharon had always opposed the Oslo peace agreements, arguing that Arafat would just use self-rule to wage war against Israel from up close. As a Palestinian mob lynched two Israeli soldiers on camera, as Palestinian marksmen shot into Israeli houses, Sharon's view came to be accepted by a growing number of his compatriots, propelling him to power in 2001. Israelis, right and left, were spoiling for a fight too, and Sharon was just the man to deliver one. In his first year in office, he was relatively restrained, punching hard but always calibrating his response to avoid a slap-down by the U.S. But after Sept. 11, the Bush Administration moved closer to Sharon's zero-tolerance view of Palestinian terrorism. So when a bomber killed 30 people at a Netanya hotel during Passover in 2002, Sharon went all out. He reinvaded the cities of the West Bank with brutal force, using the army's presence to get intelligence on the terrorists and to make arrests.He stepped up construction of a controversial barrier, started by Barak, that cut through the West Bank and walled out the Palestinians. In 2004, Sharon ordered the assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and, later, another of the group's leaders, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, steps that previously had been considered too provocative. And he got results; the intifadeh never recovered its early strength, and Israelis regained their sense of security. Sharon succeeded at what many security experts said was impossible: he found a military solution to terrorism.
Sharon was elected and re-elected in 2003 for his pugnacity, not his vision. He swam among many political ideologies, and none have found the solution to the Palestinian problem. But in the final years of his tenure as Prime Minister, with what was likely to be his last election looming, he seemed closer than ever to defining an ideology of his own. The hard-line Likudniks still believe that Israel can somehow hold onto all the territories. Sharon came to accept the Labor argument that it is impossible for Israel to rule over millions of Arabs indefinitely and still remain a democracy with a Jewish majority. But Labor's efforts to negotiate a division of the land with the Palestinians have failed. Sharon may have found a third way: draw the line yourself and see what happens. If his successors in his new party Kadima have a chance to try it out, the success of the venture will define a unique political legacy for Sharon. If they don't, he will have been a hell of a warrior.
A Flair for Conflict
Throughout his career, Sharon has been a lightning rod in the Arab-Israeli dispute
Sharon, right, with army Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan. At the time, Sharon was leading commando raids into neighboring Arab countries
Sharon, now a general, speaks with former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion during a tour of army posts along the border with Egypt
As Defense Minister, Sharon, with his wife Lily, visit troops at the army's northern headquarters two days after the start of the Lebanon War
Then head of the opposition Likud Party, Sharon, surrounded by security guards, wraps up his provocative walkabout on the Temple Mount