|Pulling Israel out of Gaza, Sharon created a new constituency of Israeli voters looking for peace but without compromising on security. Its impact is felt even today
His military prowess made him famous, his disregard for the rules infamous and his decision to pull Israel out of Gaza a legend, but few outside of Israel remember him as the unlikely father of the Israeli political center.
Kadima election poster (Photo: Gilad Kollorchik)
In 2001, with the Likud under his control, General Sharon ran against Ehud Barak in a special election for prime minister, and won by a landslide. Sharon was still the epitome of the Israeli rightwing: Militant, headstrong and unabashedly opposed to the land-for-peace formula.
But after two years of a brutal and bloody intifada, which left more than 4,000 Palestinians and Israelis dead, Sharon began to promote his plan for unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
The plan swayed neither to the left nor right: On the one hand it called for the uprooting of Israeli settlements, settlements Sharon himself had built as housing minister, yet it wasn’t leftist: its underlying rationale was not one of dialogue and peace, but rather a unilateral “disengagement” from the Palestinian people – a severing of a rotting umbilical cord, not an end to the occupation.
More importantly, the plan was primarily concerned with Gaza, and not with the West Bank.
Against all odds, and despite a severe internal crisis within the Likud, the Disengagement Plan took place in August of 2005; eight thousand settlers were removed from Gaza, and their homes demolished. In the aftermath and the not unexpected political fallout, Sharon announced his departure from the Likud to establish a new party – Kadima , or Forward.
The rationale behind the party’s formation was both ideological and political: Sharon had come to understand that he would not be able to realize his vision for the region through the Likud – yet it was obvious that he had no viable home in the Labor party that he despised, and which despised him just as much.
Pulling moderates from the Likud and disgruntled Labor MKs – among them current President Shimon Peres – Arik created ex nihilo a centrist party based around the premise of unilateral disengagement from Palestinians, a vaguely liberal ideology and a capitalistic agenda.
While it was far from being Israel’s first centrist party, Kadima succeeded where others had failed, overcoming classic political and ethnic fault lines and consolidating a constituency underrepresented on either the right or the left; both in terms of economy and security.
Unlike its political predecessors Shinui (Change) and before that Dash, which ran on a strong liberal and anti-religious agenda and failed to step beyond the niche of wealthy Ashkenazi voters, Kadima managed to pull in right-wing Sephardic votes – at the expense of the Likud – as well pragmatic and free-market oriented Labor voters.
Riding on Sharon’s political and military clout, Kadima managed to present a viable alternative to the classic left-right (Likud-Labor) divide. It allowed the middle class to vote for a two-state solution, without compromising on security. It was a peace-oriented jingoism of sorts.
Thus, Sharon, the man who always got his way, cashed in on a crisis of representation and facilitated a new type of politics in Israel – one unbound by international demands or messianic land-grabs.
Kadima’s impressive success in the elections after Sharon’s collapse consolidated the center as a long-term presence in the Israeli political scene; not so much as any specific party, but as a political force to be reckoned with.
And although Kadima failed to follow up on its 2006 victory, and its power seemed to slowly ebb away, the modest success ofTzipi Livni ‘s Hatnua and the massive win by Yair Lapid‘s Yesh Atidgive weight to the belief that there is a large number of Israelis still in search of a political home.
Lapid managed to pick up the votes that Livni and her Kadima successorShaul Mofaz lost, but the pool of voters over which they’re fighting is Sharon’s doing. Thanks to Sharon, a new constituency has been born in Israel.
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Former prime minister and combat soldier will be remembered for his exploits in Israel’s wars, the decision to leave Gaza, an infamous trip to the Temple Mount at the start of the second intifada – and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon
Ariel Sharon, the controversial prime minister often blamed for lighting the touchpaper of the second intifada in 2000, and who led Israel out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, has died at the age of 85. He had spent eight years in a coma following a massive stroke in January 2006.
A dominant yet divisive figure in Israel, both as a military and political leader, Sharon died on Saturday afternoon at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where he had been receiving long-term care.
His son Gilad Sharon announced: “He has gone. He went when he decided to go.”
A lifelong soldier, Sharon had turned to politics immediately after ending his service in the Israel Defense Forces at the age of 45. He had fought in the nation’s conflicts from before the inception of the state in 1948 up to and including the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He retired from the military with the rank of major general, and entered the Knesset. His political career flourished, albeit, like his military life, not without some controversy.
Sharon served as defense minister from 1981 to 1983, and prime minister from 2001 to 2006. It was while he held highest of political posts that he suffered the stroke that would leave him in a coma.
Ariel Sharon at a Knesset meeting in 2005 (Photo: Reuters)
Ariel Sharon was born in Kfar Malal on March 1, 1928 to parents Deborah and Samuel Sheinerman, who arrived in Israel in the Third Aliyah from Russia, after the First World War.
Throughout the years, Sharon’s personal life bore much turmoil and drama. His first wife Margalit was killed in a car accident in 1962. Their son, Gur, was killed in 1967 at the age of 11 after a bullet discharged from a rifle Sharon used as decoration in his home.
One year following Margalit’s death, Sharon married her sister, Lily. The two had two sons, Omri and Gilad. Lily passed away from lung cancer in March 2000, and asked to be buried on a hill overlooking their famous Sycamore Ranch.
In 1942, he joined the Haganah, the pre-state militia that evolved into the IDF, and thus began a long career in the military. During the 1948 War of Independence, at the age of 20, he was a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade and was seriously injured in the battle of Latrun. Upon his recovery, he became a battalion intelligence officer.
In 1951, Sharon was appointed chief intelligence officer for the Central Command, and in 1952 served in the same role in the Northern Command. He then took study leave, working for a bachelor’s degree in history and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In 1953, he was an instrumental figure in the creation of Unit 101, whose purpose was to carry out retribution operations in response to infiltration attacks (Palestinian fedayeen) from Jordan and the Gaza Strip. Under his command, Unit 101 carried out several successful retaliation operations; however in October 1953, a retribution action in the village of Qibya in the West Bank resulted in 69 Arab casualties.
Following the “Qibya massacre”, the decision was made in January 1954 to end the unit’s independent operations, and it merged into a paratrooper battalion, under the Sharon’s command. In 1956, he was appointed commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, and fought in the Suez Crisis (Operation Kadesh) the same year.
From 1958 to 1962, Sharon studied law at the Hebrew University, and commanded the Infantry Brigade and the army’s infantry school. With the appointment of Yitzhak Rabin as the IDF chief of staff in 1964, Sharon was named Chief Staff Officer in the Northern Command, and two years later he was appointed head of training within the IDF General Staff, a role that awarded him the rank of major general.
Ariel Sharon, right, with Yitzhak Rabin (Photo: Defense Ministry)
He took part in the Six-Day War as an Armored Division commander, winning high praise. In 1970 he was appointed as head of the Southern
Command. He primarily took command of the War of Attrition, while fiercely criticizing the policies of then-IDF Chief of Staff Haim Bar-Lev and quarrelling with his General Staff colleagues. At the end of the War of Attrition and in 1971 he planned several attacks on terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip. In addition, he evacuated the Bedouins from northern Sinai, an act for which he was reprimanded by the then-chief of staff.
Sharon retired from the IDF in June 1973, and turned his attention to the Liberal party and the Knesset elections. He spent the next several months working with Menachem Begin on establishing the Likud, an amalgam of several existing rightist and liberal political parties. When the Yom Kippur War broke out in October 1973, Sharon returned to active duty as an Armored Division commander, quarreled with his superiors, and crossed the Suez Canal in what would become the war’s turning point.
Sharon became a Knesset Member in the general elections of December 1973, but resigned a year to return to the IDF. From 1975-1976, he served as defense advisor to Rabin, who was by then prime minister.
In 1980, Defense Minister Ezer Weizmann resigned, and Sharon sought to replace him. But Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused his request, and tensions arose between the two. It was only after the elections for the tenth Knesset in 1981 that Sharon was named defense minister. In this role, Sharon initiated Operation Oranim (Pines), which aimed to eliminate terrorist bases in Lebanon, and put an end to the ongoing attacks across the northern border.
The major operation, dubbed Peace for Galilee, began on June 6, 1982. Sharon was involved in all its stages, and critics charged that he had taken several steps without Prime Minister Begin’s knowledge or approval. In September 1982, after the assassination of Lebanese President Bachir Gemayel, the Lebanese Phalange forces massacred thousands of Palestinian residents of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps of Beirut, an act that would haunt Sharon – and Israel – for years to come. The Israeli Kahan commission of inquiry found that Sharon bore personal responsibility for the massacre, and he was forced to resign as defense minister.
Despite this, Sharon continued to serve in the government as minister without portfolio, and was appointed industry and trade minister in the unity government formed after the 1984 elections, despite the opposition of HaMa’arakh (alignment) party members.
Sharon with his wife, Lily,1990 (Photo: Reuters)
In February 1990 he resigned due to the government’s decision to allow elections in the Palestinian territories. After the fall of the government on March 15, Sharon was appointed minister of housing and construction under Yitzhak Shamir. In this position he accelerated large-scale settlement construction in the territories.
Ahead of the 1992 elections, Sharon ran for Likud leadership, yet came in third after Yitzhak Shamir and David Levy. Following Likud’s defeat by Labor in the 1992 elections, Shamir retired from political life. In the internal Likud elections in February 1993, Sharon chose not to run against Benjamin Netanyahu, who went on to lead the party to victory in 1996.
Sharon was initially left out of the new Netanyahu government, but was given the ministry of national infrastructure following an ultimatum presented by David Levy. He was member of the security cabinet, and towards the end of the government served as its foreign minister.
Following his overwhelming defeat in the 1999 elections, Netanyahu resigned the Likud leadership, and Sharon was elected as his successor in September 1999.
In September 2000, Sharon visited the Temple Mount, a controversial visit that received much media attention, despite warnings regarding the possible consequences of such an act. Following the visit, a wave of violence erupted among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as among Israeli Arab citizens. This wave of violence marked the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada.
In the 2001 elections, Sharon ran against Ehud Barak in a special election for prime minister, and won by a landslide. In January 2003 he led the Likud to a decisive win in the Knesset elections.
Sharon inherited the prime minister’s chair with the second intifada in full swing, and Israel facing numerous terrorist attacks. Under Sharon, the country took major steps against the continuous assaults, including a prolonged military attack against terrorist organizations. Military action peaked in late March 2002, with Defensive Shield, a major operation involving conscripted and reserve soldiers triggered by a massive suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover days earlier, in which 30 people were killed.
In December 18, 2003, Sharon began to promote his plan for unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The full details of the plan were presented in April 2004, when Sharon announced he intended to execute a full separation from Gaza, which would include the evacuation of all Israeli communities in the Strip, along with four settlements in northern Samaria.
Within the next few months, Sharon managed, albeit with great difficulty, to maintain the stability of his government and implement his disengagement plan: In August 2005, all Israeli settlements in Gaza were evacuated, along with the four settlements in the northern West Bank.
Ariel Sharon at his beloved Sycamore Ranch in the Negev (Photo: Yossi Rot)
The disengagement led to a severe internal crisis within the Likud. In November 2005, after the resignation of the Labor party from Sharon’s government and the agreement on early Knesset elections, Sharon announced his departure from the Likud and – the establishment of a new party, Kadima.
It was during what would prove to be a short-lived term as head of a Kadima government that Sharon suffered from two strokes, the second of which would leave him comatose. The first, in December 2005, was a mild stroke, and he was hospitalized for just two days. But on January 4, 2006, the prime minister suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Ehud Olmert, who served as Sharon’s deputy prime minister, became acting prime minister.
Sharon never regained consciousness. He is survived by his two sons, Omri and Gilad, and several grandchildren.
Ariel Sharon’s life was intimately entwined with the life of the country he loved from the moment of its birth.
He fought in its war of independence in 1948 and from that point until he slipped into a coma in 2006 it seemed there was hardly a moment of national drama in which he did not play a role.
He was always a controversial figure in Israeli politics – certainly not universally loved – but in mourning his passing, Israelis are marking the loss of one of the few public figures left whose career stretched back to the earliest days of their state.
Ariel Sharon’s roots were in the world of Zionist pioneering zeal – he was born between the two world wars in Palestine when it was under British control – to a Jewish couple who had fled to the Holy Land from Belarus.
His reputation as an uncompromising and unapologetic defender of his country’s interests dates back to his military career.
He was still a teenager when he fought in the war of 1948 and in his autobiography, fittingly called Warrior, he described intense fighting against soldiers from the Jordanian Arab Legion for control of a crucial police fort on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
He and his men lay in fields ignited by gunfire in the burning heat with water and ammunition running low.
He remained a soldier for many years afterwards, fighting with distinction in Israel’s battles with its Arab enemies in the wars of 1967 and 1973.
He helped set up Unit 101 – a commando detachment whose job was to conduct reprisal operations across the border in Arab territories to retaliate for attacks against Israel.
Such was his reputation as a military commander that some accounts of his army career say he was nicknamed the Lion of God after a particularly daring tactical parachute operation against Egypt in 1967 in the Sinai desert.
Shadow of Lebanon
But already there was a dark undertone. Allegations emerged that Egyptian prisoners had been shot and there were questions at home about whether the operation had been a military necessity.
Fifteen years later, it was another dark episode that brought Ariel Sharon international attention.
- 1973: Elected Knesset member for Likud
- 1975-77: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s special security adviser
- 1977-81: Minister of Agriculture
- 1981-83: Minister of Defence
- 1984-90: Minister of Trade and Industry
- 1990-92: Minister of Construction and Housing
- 1996-98: Minister of National Infrastructure
- 1998-99: Foreign Minister
- 2001-2006: Prime Minister
- 2005: Left Likud to found Kadima
He was minister of defence when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The strategic goal was to bring stability to the country’s northern border by crushing Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which was then holed up in southern Lebanon and Beirut.
But the war was deeply controversial at home as well as in the wider world.
And there was worse too.
Fighters from a Christian militia group which was co-operating closely with the Israelis carried out extensive massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla.
It is likely the names of those camps will be associated with Mr Sharon’s own name as long as the history of that conflict is remembered.
Eventually an Israeli inquiry held that Ariel Sharon was “indirectly responsible” for the killing.
The war cost many lives – Israeli as well as Palestinian and Lebanese – and it casts a long shadow over his historical legacy.
Within Israel Mr Sharon was not finished though.
Long a supporter of the settlers who moved on to the lands Israel captured in the war of 1967 in defiance of international opinion, he saw himself as a natural leader of the Israeli right.
In a volatile place, he could be a provocative figure.
Paul Adams looks back on the life and legacy of Ariel Sharon
In the year 2000, flanked by hundreds of Israeli riot police, he staged a visit to the area of the Old City in Jerusalem which contains sites sacred both to Jews and Muslims – the Temple Mount or Harem al-Sharif.
Even though the area is in the part of East Jerusalem captured by Israel in the war of 1967, Jewish rights to pray there are limited – and it is a microcosm of the tensions that fuel the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Intense rioting followed his visit there and many people trace the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada to that moment.
Ariel Sharon was characteristically unrepentant.
He became prime minister in 2001, promising to bring peace and security to his country but it was a turbulent period in Israeli politics and he eventually left the governing Likud party to found his own Kadima movement while still in office.
Peace remained elusive then as it is elusive now.
It was on his watch as prime minister that construction of a barrier began with the intention of preventing suicide attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territories.
His supporters would argue that it worked. Its detractors would say it entrenched an already deep sense of separateness.
He did not shy away from bold political moves though. The man who had supported Israeli settlers ordered their removal from Gaza when he decided to withdraw from the Palestinian enclave beside the Mediterranean in 2005.
It was precisely his reputation as a hardliner that allowed him to sell to his supporters a decision with which many felt instinctively uncomfortable.
Not long afterwards, he slipped into the coma from which he was never to emerge and we will never know how he would have followed up that decision or where it might have led.
Ariel Sharon died hated by Israel’s enemies but there are plenty of Israelis who would argue that the depth of that hatred was a measure of the success with which he always defended the country he served.
An Arab walks into a bar and is about to order a drink when he sees a guy close by wearing a Jewish cap, a prayer shawl / tzitzis and traditional locks of hair. He doesn’t have to be an Einstein to know that this guy is Jewish.
So, he shouts over to the bartender so loudly that everyone can hear, “Drinks for everyone in here, bartender, but not for that Jew over there.”
Soon after the drinks have been handed out, the Jew gives him a big smile, waves at him, then says, “Thank you!” in an equally loud voice.
This infuriates the Arab. He once again loudly orders drinks for everyone except the Jew. As before, this does not seem to bother the Jewish guy. He continues to smile, and again yells, “Thank you!”
The Arab asks the bartender, “What’s the hell is the matter with that Jew? I’ve ordered two rounds of drinks for everyone in the bar but him, and all the silly bugger does is smile and thank me.
Is he nuts?
“Nope,” replies the bartender. “He owns the place.”