Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ariel Sharon

After eight years in a coma, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has died.  Looking back at his public career, there are really five major beats.  First was his role as a military commander.  Second was the critical support he gave to the settlement movement.  Third was his personal responsibility for failing to prevent massacres of Palestinians in Beirut in 1982.  Fourth was his crackdown during the Second Intifada.  Fifth was his withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

What unites all of these is a passionate commitment to Israeli security, regardless of whom it hurt.  By his career's end, however, he had engineered the centrist Kadima experiment which may go down as the last, best hope for a two-state solution to resolve the conflict.  He had concluded that demographic trends mandated a separation of Israelis and Palestinians, and that the established Palestinian leadership either would not or could not deliver an accord.  What was left was seizing the initiative, as he had done so often throughout his career, and as I suspect only he could have done so successfully on the issue of disengagement and a firm rejection of Greater Israel.

This late move does color how I evaluate Sharon as a historical figure.  I can't quite say that the Palestinians would have been more oppressed had he not existed.  I do believe only he could have attempted the solution of separation, which for all its flaws, was still, from the Israeli perspective, a solution as important for its symbolism as its practical effects.  He was almost as consequential a prime minister as Rabin before him, and his actions set the framework for the conflict with the Palestinians for years after his stroke.



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