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Sharon: warrior or a man of peace at the end?


"I am a Jew, and that is the most important thing for me. Therefore when it comes to security Israel will not make any compromises."

These words, spoken in Sharon's last interview before he suffered a massive stroke, summarize his views of Israel and peace very accurately.

Joining the Haganah in 1942 at age 14, and being wounded in the 1948 war against the invading Arab armies, Sharon has spent most of his life defending Israel against its enemies, at first in the army and later in politics. He never trusted the Arab states and the Palestinians. He thought that the only way for Israel to survive is by being tough and aggressive, to convince the Arabs that there is no other option than to come to terms with the existence of Israel. He is known for his daring and decisiveness, as well as obstinacy and a great flexibility in choosing the means to achieve his aims. Some opponents and anti-Zionist criticasters claim that Sharon is bloodthirsty and driven by a hatred for the Arabs. This however is too simplistic. He is driven primarily by a conviction that the Arabs want to destroy Israel and nothing but force can keep them from doing this.

The title question is on the minds of many people, and Sharon is praised for the disengagement as much as he is loathed for is part in the massacre in Sabra and Shatila and for being 'the father of the settlement movement'. Critics say that Sharon didn't withdraw from Gaza out of love for the Palestinians and is not willing to offer them a viable state. His decision was motivated by 'demographic' reasons (Israel cannot remain both democratic and Jewish if it rules over millions of Palestinians, and the population in the Gaza strip doubles about every generation), and security (how many soldiers should spend the best years of their life and risk being killed by defending 7000 settlers?). However, Sharon also referred to the "occupation" for the first time in public and said it is wrong to rule another people, and his decision to withdraw from Gaza was important and hopeful for peace. It was the first time that settlements were removed from Eretz Israel - the land of Israel, including the territories. The settler movement was convinced that the evacuation wouldn't take place in the end, and right wing politicians warned that the evacuation might lead to a civil war, but this didn't happen, and all went in a very orderly and well-organized manner. It was a major defeat for the settlers, and a victory for democracy, as a clear majority wanted to get rid of Gaza. The Kadima party that Sharon founded recently was another victory for democracy. While a majority of the Israeli public is fed up with the occupation, they are also highly skeptical of the Palestinians' will or ability to dismantle the terrorist organizations and make peace. Especially since Arafat refused the Barak and Clinton offers in 2000/2001, and the Intifada broke out instead, few Israelis trust the Palestinians anymore. Sharon's unilateral approach is the perfect translation of the Israeli wish to disengage from the Palestinians without having to negotiate with them. Although this approach emerged first in the Labor party (the fence/wall was their idea, and Sharon adapted it and changed the route so that it came to encompass the large settlement blocs), Sharon started carrying out this policy successfully.

It is not accurate to state that Sharon has become a man of peace. He has never been a dove, and it is doubtful, to say the least, whether, had the Palestinians fought the terror and delivered on their part of the Roadmap, he would have been willing to offer them something similar to Barak's Taba proposal, which meant a state in virtually all of the West Bank with some minor land swaps and division of Jerusalem. However, he has certainly changed his mind about the future of the territories. He has little confidence in the feasibility of a Palestinian state, but has come to recognize that it is not in Israel's interest to rule over another people who have national aspirations. Besides that, because of his strong security and military record, he is trusted by many people in the political center, to execute this disengagement without compromising Israel's security.

He is not the first 'hawk' who made concessions to the Arabs: Begin gave up all of the Sinai to Egypt in return for peace. It was a much larger offer, and Israel got something in return, but in both cases land was returned to the Arabs and settlements were removed. In both cases this was done for strategic reasons and under pressure of the USA. Begin hoped to be able to keep all of the West Bank by giving up the Sinai. Sharon hoped to save at least the large settlement blocs and East Jerusalem by evacuating smaller and more isolated settlements. This aim does not change the fact of the evacuation however, and does not make future steps beyond Sharon's aims impossible. Some political opponents both on the right and the left allege on the contrary, that by setting the example of evacuating territories without a peace agreement, he has increased the possibility of future removals of more and larger settlements without getting anything in return.

It is probably also the settlers themselves who have helped make Sharon popular among part of the left, by their strong opposition to the Gaza evacuation, including death threats and obnoxious comparisons with the Judenrat. Shortly before his stroke I saw some of these accusations repeated on a right-wing website. It is difficult to say who hates him more: the settlers whom he had always supported, but whom he recently 'betrayed' by removing a few of them, with pain in his heart, because he deemed this in the interest of his - and their - country, or the Arabs against whom he has fought five wars and for whom he never felt much compassion. The latter certainly have more reason to hate him, albeit they should not forget it was mostly their own leaders who brought them into war with Israel, just as by instigating the second Intifada, Arafat himself helped bring Sharon to power.

Ratna Pelle

Ratna Pelle lives in Holland and writes commentary about the Middle East, democracy and peace.

Biography of Sharon:

Notice - This article is copyright by the author. It has alo been published at Ratna's Blog and israel-palestina.info and appears here by permission.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000421.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 3 comments

“Legacy” is a rather lofty word when referring to Ariel Sharon’s policies. Perhaps it would be better to use the term “direction”. Ariel Sharon’s policies or direction is rather contradictory. A feeling of indifference to Ariel Sharon is impossible. One either supports him or opposes him. One can oppose him in the past and support him in the present or vice versa. He does evoke strong feelings one way or the other.

Sharon’s enemies see him as a warmonger or murderer. His supporters see him as a hero and true patriot. He had made many mistakes in the past as in the Lebanon War of 1982, including the indirect responsibility for the Sabra and Shatilla massacre in the refugee camps around Beirut. However, he has redeemed himself in the eyes of many world leaders with his bold decisions on unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

History will judge him in a mixed way – a hero to some and an implacable enemy to others. He is a man of determination and guts carrying out his decisions despite opposition even if it means uprooting Jewish settlements beyond the green line. He had made an about turn in his ideology of settlements beyond the green line when he felt that it was an obstacle to unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians. Peace with the Palestinians in his view was not an option, but unilateral disengagement is. The future will tell whether his successor will carry out his policies.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 01/14/2006 09:45 AM CST

One question that will always make me wonder is if security for Israel is really security for Jewish state. Not that Israelis would want their country to be wiped off the map but perhaps they are more fearful of what might become of the Israeli government than the existence of the state of Israel. Hence Sharon might of used disengagemnt as a way to keep security of Israel's Jewish idenity and not the existence of the state of Israel.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 01/14/2006 09:48 PM CST

The pull-out from Gaza was the most rational thing to do for Israel. It disengaged the IDF and associated administration from Gaza thus saving resources. It placed onus upon PNA to act like a real government. It set in place a situation where Israel began to be a neighbouring state and not an occupier.
Withdrawl from the OT's gives Israel greater freedom of manouevre than it has as an occupying power. Being a Hawkish Dove, IMO Israel should unilaterally withdraw from the OT's as soon as possible. The PNA is not a competent body to negotiate a disengagement and withdrawl, so negotiations are simply not practical. If Israel waits until the PNA does become effective, the drain on the Israeli economy will mire it further into difficulties.
Israel does not have an obligation to create a Palestinian state, and neither can it. Israel does have an obligation to facilitate the creation of that state by ending the occupation. If Palestinian society needs, like many nations before it, to go through a violent "storming" phase before it can "norm" and then "perform" then the continued Israeli presence is simply delaying that.
I hope that the Palestinians can "pull the rabbit out of the hat" and coalesce into a peaceful civil state, but I seriously doubt it. Sharon's unilateral withdrawl faciliated progression towards a Palestinian state in a situation where no progress was being made. I think that he did it because ultimately he realised that Israel cannot reasonably hold onto the OT's, and that continued occupation weakens Israel. I don't think that the issue of maintaining the Jewish identity of Israel is a real issue.
The current chaos of Gaza may prompt the Palestinian people to commence a collective debate about the future might really hold and whether they can engage with Israel their dominant neighbour. This may bring radical reform to Palestinian politics which is desperately needed.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/19/2006 09:30 PM CST

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