Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has tried to keep people
focused on his big picture: shrinking the threat of terror attacks
by assassinating Palestinian leaders while increasing Israel's
security by promising a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and building
a massive barrier through the West Bank.
But Mr. Sharon keeps getting dragged back into what he dismisses
as the little picture: a series of bribery allegations that now
threaten to bring him down.
Israel's chief prosecutor is recommending that Sharon be indicted
on corruption charges and has prepared an indictment against him,
according to a series of leaks to Israeli media this weekend. It is
now up to Israel's attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, to decide in
the coming weeks whether the Israeli leader will be brought up on
But Sharon's career has regularly been marked by periods of great
controversy, all of which he has managed to survive. In nearly 50
years of being a force to be reckoned with in Israeli military and
political life, few can point to a moment when the man nicknamed
"The Bulldozer" backed down. And now, despite suggestions from
within his own coalition that he will have to step down from office
if he is indicted, few expect Sharon to leave the premier's seat
unless forced to go.
"From a legal point of view, he has the full authority to remain
in office, and he has the characteristic of being a man who ignores
all criticism," says Moshe Negbi, a prominent Israeli legal analyst.
But if Sharon is formally indicted, legal precedent suggests he
would have to step down.
"There is clear-cut evidence from the Supreme Court, which ruled
11 years ago that a person cannot serve in a major national capacity
if he is under indictment," says Mr. Negbi. This ruling has been
applied to a cabinet minister, but never to a prime minister.
Adversity and 'adventurism'
Sharon's deepening troubles leave in doubt his ambitious agenda -
from defending the decision last week to kill Hamas leader Sheikh
Ahmed Yassin to a mid-April White House visit aimed at persuading
the Bush administration of the merits of Sharon's disengagement
plan. "Everything he does from now on will be seen as something he
has done because of his legal trouble. This will make him a lame
duck, and that's the real trouble," says Mr. Negbi. "There are
claims already on the far right that the whole disengagement plan is
over his legal problems."
If other politicians have been said to be made of teflon, Sharon
seems suited with full body armor. He gained a reputation for
"adventurism" as a young commander showing a brazen reluctance to
follow orders that made him a hero in the eyes of some - and a
danger in the eyes of others. Domestically, he was one of the
architects of the drive to settle the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the
territories Israel captured in the 1967 Israeli- Arab war.
It was during the war in Lebanon that Sharon became a household
name. Sharon, then defense minister, was accused of having allowed
Christian Phalangist militiamen to enter the Sabra and Shatila
Palestinian refugee camps near Beirut and massacre between 700 and
2,000 civilians in 1982. Afterwards, an Israeli investigation found
Sharon responsible for "disregarding the danger of acts of revenge
and bloodshed," and chastised him "for not taking appropriate
measures to prevent or limit this danger. …