Despite his decisive victory Tuesday, Ariel Sharon still finds himself in a vise: caught between his desire not to form a right-wing government that would hamstring his ability to deal with American peace demands and an Israeli public convinced that the time is not ripe to pursue peace.
Couple that with the electorate's crippling blow to the Israeli left and the strong showing of the anti-religious Shinui Party, and this election could pave the way for changes in the country's social fabric.
On election night Israel was no longer the 51st state, but it was New York that became an Israeli district all its own.
American Friends of Likud welcomed Ariel Sharonís re-election with balloons, campaign posters and a victory address from the prime minister, even if the party was on the East Side of Manhattan. Well into Tuesday night, several hundred American Likudniks heard from commentators and politicians long distance via phone and television hookups, as a steady stream of Likud leaders, from Sharon to Benjamin Netanyahu to Ehud Olmert said hello to New York.
Israel never suffered from a lack of attention, but in 2002 the Jewish state attracted a surge of public interest surpassing anything in the past decade.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center for the Public and the Press, released at yearís end, Israelís civil war was ìone of the most closely followed international stories in Pewís 16-year history of measuring news attentiveness.î
Working as a bouncer at an East Side bar with a predominantly black and Latino clientele, Michael Isaacs was surprised one night this fall to notice a predominantly Jewish crowd entering the club.
To show his "solidarity," Isaacs (a burly, chain-smoking Long Island native who recently completed a two-year stint as a combat medic in the U.S. Army) took out his chai pendant, the Jewish symbol of life.
Within minutes, a stranger with an Israeli accent approached Isaacs, 26, asking him if he was Jewish and if he wanted to go to Israel for free.
With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Likud Party seen cruising to victory in Tuesday's national election, political pundits speculated on how Sharon was going to form the unity government he prefers with the Labor Party, whose leader has vowed to remain in opposition.