With conservative hard-liner Ariel Sharon seemingly poised to defeat Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in today”s elections, many students are keeping close tabs on the political events unfolding half a world away.

Whether they are from the Middle East themselves or have relatives there, opinions among students and local residents abound.

Rabbi Alter Goldstein said he feels Israelis lost faith in Barak after his numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure a peace deal with the Palestinians.

He said the attitude of many Israelis is that a new leader is needed.

“We need someone else, whoever it is,” he said.

Many Israelis feel Sharon”s popularity among voters reflects Israelis” frustration with Barak”s failure to establish peace with the Palestinians and end the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians that flared up last September.

“The left has led us to believe that picking Sharon would mean starting a war and while Sharon does not seem to be the happy face that the Arabs want to see in the Middle East, where political winds change faster than the weather in Michigan, one can never know,” said Ziv Ragowsky, an Israeli soldier who was drafted in 1999 and left the University to enlist.

“If Sharon is elected I think we will be in for a period of continued stalemate and drift,” said University of Arizona political science Prof. Marc Tessler.

By contrast, Palestinians remember Sharon as the man who was found “indirectly responsible” for the 1982 massacres of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps, said

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