Ariel Sharon never let the past rule the future
BY Alan Dershowitz / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
I met with Ariel Sharon only a few weeks before he suffered the disabling stroke that ended his career. He told me that having withdrawn Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, he was now contemplating a withdrawal from some parts of the West Bank. This from a man who had originally favored Israeli settlements in both areas.
Sharon (we must sadly refer to him in the past tense now, as he rests in critical condition, with his organs reportedly failing) was a man who never allowed the past to rule the future.
When he was a warrior, there was no one more ferocious or creative a military leader. He helped save Israel from defeat after the Yom Kippur sneak attack by Egypt and Syria. He performed heroically in other Israeli wars as well.
When he became prime minister of Israel, he looked for ways to bring about peace with security. The stroke ended the possibility that this hero of war could also become a hero of peace.
Sharon was a complicated man. In our last meeting, he asked me to withhold final judgment on the role he was accused of playing when Christian militia men killed Palestinian residents of two camps in Lebanon. He told me that some of the most important evidence would remain classified for several more years and that he was confident that when the full truth was known, his role would be seen in a different light.
And in a larger sense, Sharon was a personification of both the Israeli character and the ethos that has made the Israeli military one of the best in the world. He was not a man who respected hierarchy. For him, creativity, whether in battle or in politics, was the greatest virtue. He had a knack for seeing around corners, for looking at things differently, and for making unpopular decisions.
Like Israel itself, Sharon was not perfect, but he was better than most and unsurpassed in some of what he did. Many Israelis are now asking the question: “What if” Sharon had not suddenly been stricken — if he had remained healthy through his golden years?
For Israel, and for the Palestinians, there are a lot of what-ifs. What if Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated so soon after signing the Oslo Accords? What if Yasser Arafat had died a few years before he rejected the generous peace offer made by Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton in 2000-2001?
Were he able, Sharon himself would probably tell us that history is incapable of answering those speculative, backward-looking what-if questions.
We must make the future, because additional what-ifs, pointed at the future, remain. What if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons? What if Israel attacks Iran and delays such developments? What if diplomacy and the threat of sanctions actually work? What if the current negotiations, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, actually lead to a two-state solution? What if they don’t?
As Israel confronts one of the most important years in its history — 2014 will mark the end of the nine-month negotiation period between Israel and the Palestinians and the end of the six-month preliminary deal with the Iranians — it will surely miss the creative mind and spirit of one of the most important members of its founding generation.
Many of Israel’s detractors, and even some of its supporters, will see only the negatives in Ariel Sharon’s history. That would be a serious mistake. Sharon should be judged both on his virtues and vices. In my view, the verdict of history will be that his virtues, both military and political, will outweigh his vices.
Dershowitz is a professor at Harvard Law School. His most recent book is “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.”
What follows is an editorial that appeared on the same page of the New York Daily News on Sunday, January 5, 2014. It provides historical background while drawing a “land for peace” conclusion that Zola Levitt Ministries does not necessarily endorse.
Why Sharon Mattered
His journey paralleled Israel’s
By Richard Z. Chesnoff / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
For more than seven years, Israeli war hero and former prime minister Ariel Sharon has lain in a paralytic coma in an Israeli hospital bed — the result of two unexpected strokes and with round-the-clock care from his family and physicians who never gave up hope.
Now his doctors have announced that the 85-year-old Sharon’s “primary organs” have begun to fail. At midnight Wednesday night, the Ariel Sharon death watch was launched in full swing.
It is a moment to take stock of what a controversial figure whose career has spanned the history of the State of Israel means to his country, to the world’s most volatile region, and to the world. Sharon’s is a legacy of total devotion to his people and land, to no fear of seeking new ways to try for peace within so horribly troubled a region.
For most of his countrymen — and his myriad of admirers overseas — Sharon epitomizes the ultimate “sabra,” the bold, often brash born-in-Israel farmboy who went on to become one of the prime heroes and victorious commanders of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, a war in which the Jewish state had seemed to be decidedly outnumbered by its Arab enemies.
“Arik the Bulldozer” certainly didn’t stop there. He became the instrumental figure in the planning and execution of the 1956 Suez War, then a prime strategist in the almost miraculously victorious Six-Day War of 1967 and its aftermaths, and in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 when Egypt surprise-attacked Israeli forces and crossed the Israeli-occupied Suez Canal.
When, after founding the Likud party and serving in parliament, he became Israel’s minister of defense in 1981, it was Sharon who directed the 1982 Lebanon War.
Not everyone considered him a hero. In the Arab world — and particularly among the Palestinians — he was quite the opposite. When Lebanon’s Christian Phalangist Militia stormed and murdered anywhere from 460 to 800 men, women, and children in Palestinian refugee camps near Beirut, Sharon was harshly criticized in his own country for not doing enough to prevent the slaughter.
Eventually, he was forced to resign as Defense Minister.
Sharon would, of course, go on to become the leader of the right-wing Likud in 2000, and then serve as Israel’s prime minister from 2001 to 2006 — possibly the most influential Israeli head of government since David Ben-Gurion, the father of his country.
His expertise was across the map — from security and army plans to finances and day-to-day politics, from finding ways to attract the new mass influx of Soviet Jewish immigrants to building hundreds of thousands of new homes for them.
For journalists like myself, interviewing or meeting with Sharon always involved his careful display and detailed explanation of at least a half-dozen multi-colored maps he would unroll.
The points Sharon made on his maps were not always the same. He was not being duplicitous; circumstances had somehow changed and Sharon had no fear of changing his perspective to match the times.
The evolution is instructive, and stunning. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Sharon became a loud, vocal champion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Then, while serving as prime minister in 2004-05, Sharon began to orchestrate Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
As Sharon once said, “Just as I thought it was in the national interest to build these settlements, now I’m telling you it’s in the national interest to take them down.”
Facing stiff opposition to this policy within the Likud, he left the party in 2005 to form the new Kadima (Forward) party. His worst stroke occurred just a few months before he had been expected to win a new national election. Some of his closest colleagues have described him as being on the edge of not only desettling Gaza, but preparing for “a planned unilateral withdrawal that would clear Israel out of most of the West Bank.”
Sharon fully carried out the controversial Israeli withdrawal from Gaza before he became comatose. But it failed to bring peace — not because of Sharon but because of the Palestinian Authority’s inability to maintain control of Gaza. Scores of PA officials were thrown to their death off roofs by hyper-radical Hamas madmen who then completely took over Gaza and soon began shelling Israel. The to-fro rocket wars that continue to this day continue to fracture life in both Gaza and Israel.
The Arab-Israeli conflict, which has continued to bedevil Mideast leaders and American presidents to this day, needs more than Secretary of State John Kerry’s frequent-flier trips to find a way to a peace settlement. It needs more than President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s public dueling on who is bamboozling whom.
It needs more than Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to publicly recognize the Jewish state as just that, and more than Israeli government ministers referring to the 1967 armistice lines as “Auschwitz Borders.”
It needs — to a large degree — someone canny, principled, and candid like Ariel Sharon. As Mideast expert David Makovsky, now a member of the [U.S.] State Department’s Mideast peace negotiation team, once said: “Arab officials have demonized Sharon for years. On the other hand, they have this respect for him as the only one in the Middle East who is a man with a plan. . . . He understood that if the public had zero faith in the enterprise of peacekeeping and zero faith in the other side, that you could still yield land and not make Israel more vulnerable.
“He saw that the status quo was untenable, but you needed a new model, and that’s what Sharon introduced into the equation.”
Too bad Arik can’t do that anymore.