Ariel Sharon has proved to be a very controversial figure in Israeli politics as well as in the military sphere. His enemies viewed him as a warmonger and ruthless murderer. He is also the father of the settler movement beyond the green line - a grandfather figure - whose interests were the wellbeing of the Israeli people and a war hero. He reached the climax of his military career in the October War of 1973, when his forces encircled the Egyptian 3rd Army after they had crossed the Suez Canal and regained the honour that they lost in the Six Day War of June 1967. When Ariel Sharon made a decision, he kept it and carried it out, “bulldozing” all those who opposed him.
Ariel Sharon is a man of many facets who had made many mistakes. One of these mistakes was the conduct of the Lebanese War of 1982 that he had initiated under the Begin Likud Government at the time. Sharon’s enemies held Ariel Sharon responsible for the Sabra and Shatila Massacres of refugees in the Beirut refugee camps. A commission of enquiry into this tragedy – the Kahan Commission - was established and found Sharon indirectly responsible for what had occurred.
For many of us, the highlight of Sharon’s political career was his bold decision to disengage from Gaza and uprooting the Jewish settlements there. Many in his Likud Party had opposed him in this. He proved himself a pragmatic politician, acknowledging the mistakes of his past ideology concerning Greater Israel and the settler movements of colonization of territory occupied in the Six Day War of 1967. His direction had undergone a total change towards compromise and an end to the occupation even if it meant making unilateral decisions on disengagement from the Palestinians. His goal was disengagement from the Palestinian territories whether there was a partner for peace on the Palestinian side or not. Even if the Palestinian leadership under Mahmoud Abbas was not prepared to disarm the terrorist groups in their midst, this did not influence Ariel Sharon’s decisions of unilateral disengagement. Perhaps one could speculate that had Ariel Sharon not suffered such a severe blow to his health, he would have continued on the path of more unilateral disengagement after re-election. Ariel Sharon had moved ahead with the times realizing that the dream of Greater Israel as envisaged by the Likud had reached a dead end.
The serious cerebral hemorrhage that struck him done in the midst of such a vital point in his career is a terrible tragedy of national proportion. It is possible that the medical staff over treated Ariel Sharon with various anti-coagulant drugs, contributed to his critical condition. We all hope that he will survive this and return to many years of good health. Ariel Sharon’s political career has come to an abrupt end. Personally, I never supported his policies in the past, but times have changed and he had made great strides towards peace within the last year with the Gaza disengagement despite much opposition within his own party. This had forced him out of his party. He established the centre Kadima Party with supporters from his old Likud Party, and even some Labour Party members joined him. His ex right wing supporters in the Likud had hounded and almost demonized him prior to the disengagement. At a Likud Convention, those who opposed his policies disconnected his microphone while he gave a speech. The orange ribbon settlers and supporters - opposed Ariel Sharon’s disengagement decisions. His political life within the Likud became intolerable for him. There were pulsa de nura ceremonies by the right wing “religious” lunatic fringe praying for Sharon’s demise. However, this did not deter him from carrying out his decision. He had assessed (correctly) that most of the Israeli electorate supported him as illustrated in the political polls taken at regular intervals.
Many people view the Kadima Party established by Ariel Sharon as a one-man party. Now that Ariel Sharon has left the scene, the future of Kadima is uncertain. Many politicians joined the party because of Ariel Sharon. Shimon Peres is an example. He has kept very quiet about his political future within that party. He has not said that he will support the party, apart from paying lip service to supporting Ariel Sharon. Does this mean that he could return to the Labour Party? Now, he is keeping quiet on that matter and has offered his support to Ehud Olmert, the acting Prime Minister, who has joined Kadima and is one of the initial strong supporters of Ariel Sharon. There are unofficial behind the scenes discussions within Labour to bring Shimon Peres back into the fold. It is possible that this option is still open for him.
Kadima is showing a semblance of unity while Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life. A question mark remains whether the various members of Kadima will return to their previous political home. Much depends on the ability of Ehud Olmert to maintain unity with his unproven leadership qualities. According to the latest polls, there is still strong public support for Kadima – more than for any other political party. Will Ehud Olmert be able to maintain this momentum? Time will tell.
Sharon’s legacy could keep many people within Kadima. There is no doubt that Sharon is a remarkable personality who had contributed much to Israel and its people. History will judge whether his contribution will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His stature in the world had risen to great heights as a peacemaker from that of a much-maligned general responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians because of carrying out military options against Palestinian terror. He had gone against the mainstream of the Likud that he had established by acknowledging the importance of ending the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state. He is aware that the way the situation stands today, and with the possibility of the Palestinian electorate increasing their support for Hamas, there is no partner on the Palestinian side with whom to come to a peace agreement. His legacy involves many unilateral decisions of disengagement from the occupied territories. The implementation of these decisions under the new Kadima leadership with the strong “Ariel Sharon resolve” to carry them out is a big looming question mark for the future.