Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, was elected on the promise of restoring Israel's security, a promise he is obviously not keeping.
Events in the region are tragic. Sharon's policies have deprived both sides of the one thing all people require: hope. For two years, hope was alive and well in the region, hope that Arabs and Jews were on track toward an equitable solution of their problems.
Today, hope is dead, replaced by mutual desperation. Haaretz, Israel's most respected newspaper, calls it, "life by the sword."
The situation is desperate because most Israelis seem to back Sharon's ruthless policies. With the Labor Party in the government, there is no opposition. Disappointed that Ehud Barak's negotiations with the Palestinians failed, the nation has turned to collective punishment: 10 Palestinian lives for every dead Israeli.
Sharon says the Palestinians must stop their violence before he will talk to them, and even then, he won't talk to them about much. He has no interest in the issues most pressing to them -- land, settlements, borders, Jerusalem.
Sharon's policy won't work. Faced with such intransigence, what leverage do the Palestinians have but violent protest -- mortars, car bombs, suicide attacks? "They are shooting themselves in the foot," says Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, failing to ask himself why they would do that.
We know Sharon could eradicate all Palestinians. He espoused that policy earlier, and nothing has changed. A settler is killed, and Israeli tanks blow up entire Gaza blocks. A bullet is fired, and acres of Palestinian crops are eradicated. Soon the Palestinians won't have left even their miserable camps. Palestinian officials are assassinated and government buildings blown away. "It is not war," says Sharon, "it is only fighting."
He's right. Armies against police, tanks against bullets are not war. It is only fighting. But Gaza, the one place Palestinians can call home (though it is dotted with Israeli settlements), is in ruins.
Israelis didn't like Barak, but Barak was right. His was the only way, and that he didn't succeed meant only that he didn't have enough time. Israelis say the Palestinians rejected Barak's offers, but they're wrong. Negotiations were advancing when Barak was voted out. Israel, not the Palestinians, rejected Barak.
The Bush administration has no clear policy on the Middle East as yet, but it had better get one. As the current fighting escalates -- Israeli jets foraged deep into Lebanon this week to strike at a Syrian installation -- America will be sucked back in. Instead of being asked for mediation with the Arabs, we will be asked for money and arms to fight the Arabs.
The last president to face such a situation, George H. W. Bush, told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that America supported land for peace, not Israel's annexation of Palestinian lands.
A decade later, his son is in the White House, and a new Israeli leader is attempting to roll back a decade of progress. It's time the son repeated the father's message.