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Bill Schneider: Sharon echoing Reagan campaign

Bill Schneider  

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider has been in Israel, gauging political drama in the race for prime minister.

Q: How is Likud candidate Ariel Sharon being packaged?

SCHNEIDER: He's being packaged very cautiously. For instance, CNN's Christiane Amanpour did an interview with Ehud Barak, but she could not get an interview with Ariel Sharon because he's not giving any interviews.

Sharon had a few embarrassing moments in the campaign, like when he went to a high school and was cornered by a young girl who was asking him very pointed questions about the unpopular Lebanon invasion, of which he was the architect.

So he's not giving interviews and he's also packaging himself as the peace candidate, which is an amazing thing to many Israelis. His slogan, plastered all over the walls in Israel, is "Only Sharon Will Bring Peace."

What he's essentially saying is this is a referendum on peace. He's saying, "I am the peace candidate, but I will give you peace with security, whereas Barak's version of peace is to make concessions to the Palestinians, but then we don't get security. We've had nothing but four months of violence."

Q: Is that strategy the product of American political consultants?

SCHNEIDER: I'm not sure the idea is imported from America, but some of the techniques clearly are, including the technique of limiting his availability to the press. That's a very un-Israeli thing to do, especially for a challenger. But Sharon is so well known, and so controversial, that for him to limit his exposure is probably a wise move.

It's somewhat the way Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter in 1980, when many Americans feared he was too old, too extreme, too right-wing, too risky. He limited his exposure to the press and tried to assure people that he was a safe alternative to the discredited incumbent. That is exactly what Ariel Sharon is doing in this race.

Q: Are there non-Israeli consultants involved in this election?

SCHNEIDER: There are a few, and they are on both sides. Sharon has been getting advice from an American political consultant named Arthur Finkelstein, who has also worked with Benjamin Netanyahu. Ehud Barak's consultants include Stanley Greenburg, who's a Democratic pollster, and Robert Shrum, a media adviser who's done a lot of campaigns for Democrats in the United States.

Q: And what are Barak's people telling him to do in these last few days, to turn this around?

SCHNEIDER: What they're hoping to do is scare the voters about the prospect of Sharon becoming prime minister -- that he's going to start a war, that he's going to be harsh, that he'll be divisive.

In fact, they're running ads which are very controversial because they have Arab leaders saying on Israeli television that if Sharon becomes prime minister there will be war.

To put Arab leaders on Israeli television threatening war if someone is elected -- can you imagine how Americans would feel if a candidate had international leaders saying, "if so-and-so is elected, they'll make war on the United States?"

He's trying to depict Sharon as far too extreme, and hoping that in the end the election will be a referendum on Sharon rather than Barak. That would be quite unusual because Barak is the incumbent, and when an incumbent is running for re-election, it's bound to be a referendum on his record.

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Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
World Economic Forum
Palestinian National Authority
PLO Negotiations Affairs Department
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
Israel Defense Force
Palestinian Red Crescent

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