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Initially I was rather surprised to read Scott Thompson - The Middle East's Bismarck - comparing Ariel Sharon, ironically enough an Israeli Jew, to the best known German statesman.

We all know Ariel Sharon, don't we, and like or hate him, he is hardly the Middle-East Bismarck for the sole reason there is no multitudes of Israeli states to unify. The biblical Jewish nations of Judah, Israel, and indeed Edom, if one wants to include the country of the dispossessed Esau, disappeared more than two thousand years ago. The modern Israel started as and continues to be just one single state.

But on second thought, after recalling my school studies on the German statesman, I believe Thompson may be right after all. The 1870 Franco-Prussian War sprang to mind. Two important aspects of that war deserve mentioning to illustrate the Bismarck-Sharon comparison.

Bismarck had deceitfully fabricated the Ems Despatch to provoke France into war against a very prepared Prussia. In this sense, Sharon is certainly Bismarck-ish, frequently provoking and baiting the Palestinian hothead militant factions into retaliatory attacks against Jewish settlers, and thereby demonstrating to the western world, especially the US, that it would be impossible for Israel to talk peace meaningfully with Palestinian terrorists.

Israel, of course, didn't want to talk or have anything to do with Palestinians, other than to deny them their long overdue statehood.

This strategy has also teflon-coated many of Israel's aggressive and oppressive actions against the Palestinian people, under the guise of defensive and preemptive neutralisation of its intolerant foes. Further, it has masked the illegal seizures and occupation of the West Bank and - another irony - the building of a Berlin-like wall on the pretext of security against terrorist militants.

The Franco-Prussian War resulted in a Prussian victory. Unlike the more benign treatment of the Germanic nation of Austria, another loser to the Prussians, Bismarck was extremely mean to France. Under the Treaty of Frankfurt, Germany appropriated French Alsace and Loraine,

and demanded a huge financial compensation, that took France three years to discharge. Until the compensation was paid in full, France was subjected to the humiliation of German occupation.

French humiliation was so total that invariably, a harsh and acrimonious relationship between the two nations set the tone for the Great War in 1914. Similarly, Sharon has not only defeated the

Palestinians severely but has repeatedly humiliated them, for example, by the arrogant confinement of and unmitigated threats against their late erstwhile leader, Yasser Arafat, by the wanton destruction of Palestinian properties and the illegal occupation of their land.

Like Bismarck, Sharon has been always wheeling and dealing, and treacherous to his so-called allies. Conservative and anti-liberal, Sharon has been certainly following some of the footsteps of the German Chancellor.

However, I disagree with Thompson's generous assessment of Sharon's age or the exclusive identification of the region's problems with a long gone Arafat as some reasons for Sharon's apparent reversal of attitude. As Thompson has correctly pointed out, a seasoned terrorist like the wily old fox, or more correctly, a ferocious leopard, is hardly likely to change its spots.

An absent Arafat could easily be replaced by another demonised Palestinian personality, and one doubts that an Ariel Sharon would ever mellow. Trickier and more cunning, certainly, but more reasonable most unlikely.

But Thompson has eruditely identified the singularly most important factor for an apparently 'modified' Sharon - that of a change in the American wind.

A second-term US president who is less beholden to the pressure of campaign fund-raising and lobby groups - which are vital to a re-election - may act more courageously and fairly for the Palestinians.

A second-term President, who has a Vice President unlikely to be considered for the 2008 presidency because of age and health, will be less constrained to act against the wishes of strong lobby groups such as the Christian Right and pro-Israeli organizations.

A second-term president, traumatised by the shocking experience of Iraq with about 1,500 young Americans dead, an embarrassing Abu Ghraib incident, an evolving Coalition of the Dwindling, over $200 billion spent on a war without an end in sight and an oil-rich Iraq slowly slipping out of its weakening grasp may not be so blind to the advice of his own pro-Israel advisers and secretaries or the manipulations of Ariel Sharon.

A second-term president, who realises that he is considered today as one of the most dangerous, and possibly most hated man in the world, with a divided and continuously questioning domestic public, may want to erase that ignominious reputation and leave a lasting legacy of peace in the Middle East. A consequential Nobel Peace Prize, even as a joint winner with Sharon and Abbas, would certainly not go amiss.

And he will be helped in that direction by a new secretary of state who would definitely want to make her own personal mark as a world statesperson, and emerge from under the overshadowing figure of Colin Powell, one of the most respected US Secretaries of State.

Condoleeza Rice is a highly intelligent person who may have assessed that the time is now ripe for the Americans to tilt ever so gently to the greatest and most troublesome Arab-Muslim cause for the last 50 years of Middle-Eastern history. The US now needs more Arabs friends than ever. It can achieve that by a more sympathetic and balanced treatment of the Palestinian grievance.

A worried Sharon knows that Israel's future - in fact its very survival - depends upon a sympathetic and generous US the president and secretary of state of which are now viewing the Middle East problem now with more American strategic national interest in mind rather than the president's.

The latter-day Bismarck grits his teeth as he makes the appropriate concessions to the Palestinians, as he must, but claws back every possible advantage without appearing to be unreasonable, stubborn or ungracious.

Well, he has been to the dentist before.

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