A Warrior Who Failed as a Peacemaker - The New Indian Express

A Warrior Who Failed as a Peacemaker

Published: 14th January 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 14th January 2014 01:53 AM

The death of Israel’s former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who was laid to rest near his Sycamore Ranch in the Negev on Anemone Hill on Monday, represents an extraordinary moment of rupture in his country’s history. The son of Russian immigrants and born in a farming community near Tel Aviv in 1928, he was present at many of the most symbolic and controversial moments in his country’s history. At 20, he fought as a commander in the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Four years later, he formed a unit specialising in reprisals following attacks by Palestinian fighters. Two decades later, Sharon daringly crossed the Suez Canal with a tank unit—apparently unauthorised—ultimately securing victory over Egypt.

There have been few more divisive figures in the Mideast than Sharon. Some Israelis admired him as hero of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, while Palestinians saw him as the “butcher of Sabra and Shatila”. An early enthusiast for building Jewish homes in occupied territory, for almost three decades from the mid-1970s, he used a number of cabinet roles to push more than 100 developments into the West Bank and Gaza.

Yet, it was during his term as Israel’s prime minister that Sharon took the substantial leap of moving to a strategy of “disengagement”, unilaterally withdrawing troops from the Gaza strip and bulldozing Israeli settlements there. The Israeli right, including members of the Likud party he had helped found, were furious. Soon after, Sharon left the party and set up the more centrist Kadima. On January 4, 2006, Sharon suffered a stroke and fell into a coma, leaving his deputy Ehud Olmert to take over as prime minister. It is tempting to speculate that the illness of a man who had spent so much of his life at war may have robbed the region of its greatest chance for peace, but in the end Sharon must be judged on what he did, rather than what he did not do.

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