Ariel Sharon has died at 85, but you may be forgiven if you’re surprised that he was still alive in the first place. He had been in a coma since a devastating stroke in 2006, and it is easy to imagine that his death was in this case a deliverance.
Sharon was a figure of tremendous controversy, even more than most Israeli leaders, and that’s saying something. He was a towering figure who lived up to the meaning of his name, “lion”:
Sharon was one of Israel’s legendary politicians and military leaders. He played an instrumental role in IDF victories in the Sinai desert in both the 1967 Six Day War and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. His victories on the battlefield, immortalized by the image of him in an IDF uniform with a white bandage wrapped around his wounded forehead, earned him the title, “Arik, King of Israel.”
He was equally fearless in the political arena, where he was the father of two parties, Likud and Kadima. As defense minister in 1982, he oversaw the Lebanon War before he was ousted from office in 1983 as a result of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre for which the Kahn Commission of Inquiry found him indirectly responsible.
Later, Sharon also began the settlement movement and then pulled back from it, and was responsible for starting to build the security barrier that has helped stem the tide of suicide bombings in Israel.
The Sabra and Shatilla massacre was the event that anti-Sharon forces find to be perhaps the most offensive episode in an altogether-offensive career. Years ago I tried to sort out what actually happened there, and I won’t go into it now except to say the following: no one would be talking about Sabra and Shatilla if there had been no opportunity to blame the Israelis for failing to stop it (that’s where the “indirectly” came in). It would instead have remained one of a long line of dreadful massacres in the bloody and seemingly-endless Lebanese civil war.
I will close with a quote from Sharon that I found in a New Yorker interview that took place some time in the early 2000′s:
The conflict isn’t between us and the Palestinians. The conflict is between us and the Arab world. And the problem at the heart of the conflict is that the Arab world does not recognize the Jews’ inherent right to have a Jewish state in the land where the Jewish people began. This is the main problem. This also applies to Egypt, with which we have a cold peace. It also applies to Jordan, with which we have a very close strategic relationship, but this is a relationship between governments, not between peoples. The problem is not 1967. The problem is the profound nonrecognition by the Arab world of Israel’s birthright. The problem will not be solved by an agreement. It will not be solved by a speech. Anyone who promises that it’s possible to end the conflict within a year or two year or three is mistaken. Anyone who promises peace now is blind to the way things are. Even after the disengagement, we will not be able to rest on our laurels. We will not be able to sit under our fig tree and our vine….
The greatest danger is in signing some document and believing that as a result we will have peace. This is not going to happen…Instead, we have to build a process that will enable us to ascertain that indeed a change is taking place in the Arab world. It is necessary to teach all the teachers that Israel is a legitimate entity.
I don’t see any way that could happen. But I agree with Sharon that, until it does, the bitter conflict will continue.