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Ariel Sharon Working to Put Together Government of National UnityAired February 7, 2001 - 4:25 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Israel's new prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, is working to put his new government together after crushing Ehud Barak in yesterday's election. The former general says he wants a government of national unity. He will have 45 days to form a government after the election results are certified. Unofficial results show Sharon winning the election by more than 25 percentage points.
In his first public appearance after his election victory, Israel's new prime minister-elect laid claim to all of Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital. Now, that is a message that certainly won't please Palestinian leaders.
We get the latest now on that from CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who joins us from Tel Aviv and who's been covering the election for us as it played out -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve, indeed, Ariel Sharon, the prime minister-elect, did spend a lot of today with his aides and strategists trying to figure out just how to get together in a coalition government. They want to join, or they want Labor Party to join them, but it's still not sure if that's going to happen anytime soon. The other option, of course, is to have a coalition of -- a much narrower one -- of ultra-Orthodox and right- wing parties.
Now, another thing that Ariel Sharon did first among his tasks today is he went to his farm in the Negev and he went to visit the grave of his late wife, Lili. She had died last year after losing a battle with cancer, and several times during his victory speech last night he mentioned his late wife and said how much he missed her, and regretted that she could not see him rise to the pinnacle of power here in Israel.
Meantime after that, he went to Jerusalem's holy site, he went to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, gave some prayers there, and again did his uncompromising stance on Jerusalem, saying that he considered Jerusalem to be the eternal and undivided capital of the Israeli state, of the Jewish state. This in contrast to what the defeated prime minister, Ehud Barak, had suggested that he would be prepared to consider sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians as a capital of both the states. Now, as I say, the Palestinians also have been watching and reacting to this election. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sent a message of congratulations to Ariel Sharon, saying that he hoped that this would be a year of peace. On the other hand, Sharon's victory has drawn mixed reaction in other parts of the Arab world, many Arab officials saying that they are very concerned about this. Many Arab press and papers harshly condemning his past military record and very concerned about the future of the peace process in this region -- Steve.
FRAZIER: Christiane, it is that military record, of course, and his militancy now that everyone has focused on. So it seems especially poignant that his first stop after winning election would be to the grave of his late wife. Is that a -- is that a humanizing effect, do you think?
AMANPOUR: Well, I think two things: One, that everybody who knows him knows that he was genuinely devoted and he even in an off- camera conversation with us said that how he had such a friendship, not just a love affair, with his late wife. And this was a genuine moment. And we had been told that he was going to go and visit her grave, as he does regularly.
But besides that, his strategists clearly seeking to overcome the hawkish, militaristic image that he has accumulated during his years as a general and even in politics -- played out an exceptionally interesting campaign strategy, where they portrayed him as this cuddly elder statesman, a grandfather, a farmer traipsing through the wheat fields in his farm, and portraying him as a changed man. That's what they've been saying: He is a changed man.
So this is the image that they're trying to portray, knowing that Ariel Sharon -- Ariel Sharon sparks some intense feelings -- indeed, a lot of fear and hatred -- amongst many of the people in this region.
FRAZIER: Christiane Amanpour, live from Tel Avis. Christiane, thanks for joining us this afternoon.
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