Wednesday, April 16, 2014
The Associated Press
JERUSALEM — It was vintage Ariel Sharon: His hefty body bobbing behind a wall of security men, the ex-general led a march onto a Jerusalem holy site, staking a bold claim to a shrine that has been in contention from the dawn of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In this August 2004 photo, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits the southern Israeli Bedouin town of Rahat. Sharon, the hard-charging Israeli general and prime minister who was admired and hated for his battlefield exploits and ambitions to reshape the Middle East, died on Saturday at age 85.
The Associated Press
What followed was a Palestinian uprising that put Mideast peace efforts into deep-freeze.
Five years later, Sharon was again barreling headlong into controversy, bulldozing ahead with his plan to pull Israel out of the Gaza Strip and uproot all 8,500 Jewish settlers living there without regard to threats to his life from Jewish extremists.
His allies said the move was a revolutionary step in peacemaking; his detractors said it was a tactical sacrifice to strengthen Israel’s hold on much of the West Bank.
Either way, the withdrawal and the barrier he was building between Israel and the West Bank permanently changed the face of the conflict and marked the final legacy of a man who shaped Israel as much as any other leader. He was a farmer-turned-soldier, a soldier-turned-politician, a politician-turned-statesman – a hard-charging Israeli who built Jewish settlements on war-won land, but didn’t shy away from destroying them when he deemed them no longer useful.
Sharon died Saturday, eight years after a debilitating stroke put him into a coma. He was 85.
Sharon was “a brave soldier and a daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him,” President Shimon Peres, a longtime friend and rival, said in a eulogy. “He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision.”
The man Israel knew simply by his nickname “Arik” fought in most of Israel’s wars, gained a reputation as an adroit soldier and was the godfather of Israel’s massive settlement campaign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More than any other event, perhaps, the public perception of the man was shaped by the massacres of Palestinians in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Chatilla by Christian militiamen allied with Israel during the 1982 invasion that was largely his brainchild.
He detested Yasser Arafat, his lifelong adversary, as an “obstacle to peace” and was in turn detested in the Arab world. Israelis called him a war hero. His enemies called him a war criminal.
His career spanned the Middle East conflict from its early skirmishes through five wars, one of which left him hailed as his nation’s savior, and another reviled as its disgrace.
He was a lifelong opponent of concessions to the Arabs who ended up giving away land and offering the Palestinians a state of their own.
His was a life of surprises, none bigger than his election as prime minister in his twilight years, when he spent his first term crushing a Palestinian uprising and his second withdrawing from Gaza. The pullout freed 1.3 million Palestinians from Israeli military rule and left his successors the vague outline of his proposal for a final peace settlement with Israel’s Arab foes.
After the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon shattered Israel’s long-standing political divisions by leaving Likud, the hardline party he had helped found three decades earlier. He created a new centrist party, called Kadima, or Forward, to support his efforts to reach a deal with the Palestinians and draw Israel’s permanent borders. The party was cruising toward victory in upcoming elections when Sharon suffered his stroke.
As a soldier, Sharon was known for daring tactics and occasional refusal to obey orders. As a politician, he was known as “the bulldozer,” contemptuous of his critics, the man who could get things done.
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