When Ariel Sharon (protected by 1000 policemen) visited the Al Aqsa Mosque, I believe that he knew he was instigating violence and that Israelis and Arabs alike would die as a result of his actions. Sharon is not exclusively responsible for the renewed intifada--Ehud Barak also helped trigger that explosion--but he is morally responsible for the deaths he directly caused that day.
His goal certainly must have been to destroy the weak government of Ehud Barak, and to create an opportunity, after a long and discredited career, for himself to become prime minister at last. In the days after, I hoped that the Israeli people, who had seemed so strongly to want peace, would be reasonable, and would see clearly that Sharon was the worst kind of man alive: one who causes deaths to gain power. But his nation seemed to have a terrible blind spot, as it has for its leaders before, so many of whom (like the people they face across the table) grew in terrorist soil. So Sharon was elected as a strong man, on the grounds that "only Sharon can make peace." The people who voted for him fall into two categories, if you'll permit a sweeping generalization: people who nakedly believe that it is acceptable to kill Arabs in order to proliferate settlements; and people who, in pursuit of a "safe" authority figure, conveniently forgot that Sharon deliberately caused the crisis that they called him in to resolve. The first group is healthy but repulsive, but the second group is suffering from a terrible blight of the soul.
The rationalization is that "the Palestinians used Sharon's visit as a pretext to launch an intifada they were planning anyway." This is tantamount to blaming the gasoline for using the match as a pretext to burst into flames. It is one of those statements which sounds plausible for just a moment, but then disintegrates to reveal a moral void.
Be careful what you wish for. Like American candidates so intent on the election that they don't know what to do once elected, Sharon is not proving to be very strong in office. Just weak and violent. He is predictably talking out of every side of his mouth: no negotiations, but he sends his son; there will be peace; we cannot talk about peace, only security. Palestinian houses are being razed, and olive trees cut down, at a greater rate than under Barak, either because Sharon blesses it, or because he is too insecure to restrain an emboldened army or settlers. Troops invade Gaza, speaking of staying for months, then are pulled out a day later, after American criticism. And the first bombing raid in years is mounted into Lebanon.
Someone in Israel--I blame Barak and the government, not the majority of Israelis, who perhaps required some guidance from their leaders-- had a failure of courage on the edge of peace. They could have closed the deal, and done so safely, but they pulled back instead. And handed it to Sharon. It was a terrible mistake, and many more people will die needlessly, before it is corrected.