While walking by the Tel Aviv seashore promenade, I was approached by aslick blond guy who invited me to visit lady luck. A mixed crowd oftourists and folks from Afula and Dimona had gathered to watch this streetartist with fast hands, three glasses, and a ball. "Try and guess, wherethe ball is, and you win hundred bucks," he said. I laughed. Did he take mefor a country hick? No big city man would try this game, as one can't beatthe dealer. The right choice in this game it to refuse to choose.

So don't come looking for me on the sixth of February, when the drums call thecitizens of Israel to vote. I will not be making a beeline for theelection booth. I'd rather help the villagers besieged by Barak's troops,and there, without trepidation, I shall wait for the news of Sharon'svictory.

At first sight, this election is a sham. It is similar to the Soviet-style one-party elections. Of course, the Russians never came up with thebrilliant idea to offer citizens the choice of Brezhnev vs. Chernenko. Thecitizens of Israel should envy the Buridan's ass. This silly animal of themedieval allegory could not choose between two identical bales of hay. Wehave to choose between two equally unappetizing generals, oldArab-fighters, unconvincingly mouthing the word "peace." The choice isfurther made irrelevant by their declared intent to form a coalitiongovernment immediately after the election.

The polls predict victory for General Sharon, the world-famous symbol of"cruel Zionism." His name is connected with mass murders of civilians inQibya, Sabra and Shatila, and the siege of Beirut. His "sightseeing" ofHaram al-Sharif jumpstarted the most recent eruption of civil war inPalestine. He is a certified war criminal. Still, I will not rush to saveBarak's skin. I look forward with hope. I have a few reasons for myoptimism, and callous indifference is not one of them.

It is true, the election could be seen as just another of the endless congames that plague Israeli politics. It is a good cop/bad cop routine onthe Palestinians. Once again, the fate of the Palestinians is being toyedwith by men who are out to score public relations points. Labour and Likudare reenacting the memorable dialogue from the great American novel "MobyDick." When Ishmael, the hero of Melville's book, seeks a place on a whaler,the mean skipper Bildad offers him a pittance, while his co-owner, CaptainPeleg, explodes in visible anger: "Why, blast your eyes, Bildad, thou dostnot want to swindle this young man! He must have more than that," and offershim anyway much less then what Ishmael could rightly expect. Well, as inour life, Ishmael is not asked, he just has to submit.

Having said that, I will be the first to admit that the two candidatesstill differ. The Jewish joke tells of two kinds of fools, a summer fooland a winter fool. Whenever a summer fool comes in, you immediatelyrecognize him for a fool. Whenever a winter fool comes in, it takes timeuntil he removes his greatcoat, shakes snow off his fur hat, and only thenyou understand that he is a fool. Barak is a winter fool. Until he startedto shoot, it was possible to retain a few delusions about the man. Sharonis a summer fool. You immediately see him for what he is. There is anadvantage in dealing with such a man. His peace cooing will convince noone. He will have to produce tangible results in order to survive.

Barak reminds me of my late spinster aunt, Ethel. She refused every suitor,but only after letting him believe that this time it will be different. For years, we hoped she would do the right thing and get married. If not married, find herself a lover to make up for decades of loneliness. But she could not. Wefelt pity for whoever happened to be her current suitor, as we watched himpainfully crawling home. He should know better; Aunt Ethel would notsurrender even if she wanted, as she was afraid of men.

Ehud Barak was notorious for promising and reneging on his promise.Actually, he did not fulfill a single promise. For instance, his governmentdecided to free the villages of Anata and Abu Dis. A few days later, hefound a reason to keep them captive. In the interview given to the Vestinewspaper last week, he was offered to name his main achievement. Barakreplied: "I revealed to the world the true face of Arafat." Barak changesopinions twice a day, he sends and recalls delegations, he is unreliable.Speaking in American terms, you would not buy a new car from him, let alonea used one.

What is worse, Barak does not like Palestinians. This arrogant andunpleasant man refused to invite the Palestinian citizens of Israel, whoelected him, into his government. On a personal level, I can easiervisualize Sharon in the company of Palestinian friends over a hummus thanBarak ever hiring a Palestinian gardener. He would probably prefer a Thai.The war-crime record of Sharon is not unique. Barak's long list ofassassinations would not look good in the Hague, either. We are doomed tolive with war criminals. A just court would try not only Sharon and Barak,but the perpetrators of sanctions against the people of Iraq and the Serbiabombings. The murderers of three million Vietnamese still walk free, andprobably sit on Capitol Hill. Many Israelis of Sharon's generation wereArab fighters, and quite ruthless ones, too. But they did not look on aPalestinian as a lowlife that ought to be contained or exterminated.

Like many of my Israeli contemporaries, I did my time in the army. Iremember the smell of cordite, jeeps' flight in the desert, the green skyof night vision, shrieks of shrapnel, Suez crossing, twin tents, fellowshipof arms. As a young soldier in a crack unit, I was proud of my red bootsand paratrooper's wings; I listened with a wistful heart to the stories of thebrave deeds of Arik Sharon and Meir Har Zion. (Yes, it was before Sabra andShatila.) I am not ashamed to admit I cherish them, together with thecourage of Karame fighters and that daredevil Leila Khaled. Soldiers canunderstand other soldiers. Together we form Palestine.

Whenever the beautiful green Palestine is united, all her communitieswill bring their best achievements to the common cause of making thisspecial land the best place on earth, as it should be. The Palestinianswill contribute their art of growing olives and tending the springs, theirpeasant love of the land and unbroken spirit of Intifada. Our Israelicontribution won't include Einstein's theory or Wall street wizardry, as wedo not understand it, but the military exploits worthy of Crusaders' glory.In Palestine, we don't need peace. We do not need separation, even on thebest of terms. We need love and compassion, and life together. On theposition of the prime minister, we do not need a de Gaulle. We need a deKlerk.

Sharon and his people are held together by a perverse form of love to theland. It is perverse because they imagine it is possible to love Palestinewithout Palestinians. But Palestine is not a dead object, it is a livecountry, and Palestinians are her soul. Still, it is easier to deal withthese perverts than with those who would prefer to turn Palestine into apart of Eastern Europe, or of the East Coast.

The Civil War in Palestine (1947-2001) was possible only due to theexternal support of Zionists' ill-advised allies. Sharon's grizzly pastmakes the unlimited support of the organized American Jewry less likely andmore precarious. The watchful presence of international observers, thepossibility of U.N. intervention, unencumbered by a U.S. veto, the loomingpresence of a resurrected Iraq, will be necessary to concentrate Sharon'smind. He is not the peaceful messiah on the white colt, but he is no more ascarecrow than Barak.

A military man, he should be offered the simple and the best solution toour problems: unification of the country on the basis of "one man, onevote." The temptation to bury the tomahawks, to end the civil war, and tobecome the first ever legitimate ruler of a united Palestine could be toomuch to withstand for this old soldier.

Then, who knows, we could beat the dealer even in this loaded game.