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FAREWELL, ARIEL SHARON

Israeli Leader Followed Herzl's Vision To Ben-Gurion's Pragmatism

Israel Prepares To Bid Farewell to Ariel Sharon

General Sharon's Daring Command Is Credited With Saving With Israel In Yom-Kippur War Of 1973

(Photo: Amit Shabi)

As Sabbath approached in Israel, Ariel Sharon had undergone a third brain operation and remained in a critical condition at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. However, Sharon's indomitable spirit makes it difficult for many Israelis to grasp that he has departed and that they face a new reality.

As dusk fell over Jerusalem, nuero-surgeons completed their third operation in two days on Ariel Sharon. The prognosis was somber and the realization was starting to sink - Arik would not win and this was his last battle.

In Israel, friends and political foes agree - Ariel Sharon was one of a kind. His image of a strong, unconquerable leader is such, that politicians and citizens alike, have yet to grasp that Sharon is no longer in command. Sorrow for the man and concern for the future - the nation hangs in a suspended anticipation not knowing what to expect. The son of a farming family on moshav Kfar-Malal Sharon commanded the famous 101 IDF commando unit that introduced daring tactics of preemption against Arab guerrilla attacks. Recognized as a born leader, Sharon quickly rose through the ranks to make general. David Ben-Gurion once said he should be promoted to IDF Chief of Staff, but Sharon's lack of discipline apparently blocked his appointment.

Recalled from retirement in the midst of the Yom-Kippur War, Sharon led the dramatic IDF operation across the Suez Canal. This changed the course of the conflict, smashing the Egyptian forces, surrounding the Egyptian 3rd Army and opening the road to Cairo. Following his illustrious military career, Sharon then went into politics. Serving as defense minister under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sharon spearheaded the Lebanese war that started out as an operation to drive PLO terrorists out of Katyusha range of the Israeli border but ended up in Beirut. And with an Israeli commission of enquiry blaming Sharon for indirect responsibility for the Lebanese Christian massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. But despite this setback, Sharon rebounded and went on to eventually become prime minister.

As Israels leader, Ariel Sharon towered over all his political rivals. Today, politicians are loath to talk publicly of the fallout of the new emerging reality without Sharon in charge. Some opponents to his Gaza retreat may now rejoice. However, all agree - no one can fill Sharon's shoes. These are the facts: Sharon totally isolated former Palestinian terror leader Yasser Arafat, suppressed the wave of suicide bombers who murdered and maimed thousands of Israelis. Accepting the Roadmap peace plan for a Palestinian state, Sharon then carried out a highly controversial Israeli withdrawal against the will of his own Likud party. He then bolted the Likud to form the new Kadima party that was on its way to winning the March 28th election. Sharon is the last of the 1948 War of Independence fighters to dominate Israels political stage. No one can say who and what will follow.Ultimate Herzl-Ben-Gurion: Throughout his long career, Ariel Sharon underwent a personal metamorphosis. But always it was his immense self - confidence and relentless drive that charted his course, whether Sharon was in military uniform or a politicians suit. He was the ultimate leader who followed the credo of Theodore Herzl, the visionary of the Jewish state: If you wish it, it will not be a dream. It was Sharon, the bulldozer, who more than anyone else, erected settlements throughout the West Bank so that the Land of Israel would remain Israeli. In those days, Sharon coined the phrase: Jordan is Palestine. Sharon became the champion of the land of Israel ideology and the settlement movement. But at age seventy-one when he finally sat in the PMs chair, Sharon acquired a new perspective: the view from here is different. With the world clamoring for a Palestinian state, it was no longer Land of Israel ideology that could ensure the future of the Jewish state. If U.S. President George W. Bush, Sharon's and Israels best friend, also supported Palestine, the Israeli prime minister stared reality in the face and drew conclusions.

Globalization of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The new situation after 9/ 11 and the American war in Iraq, as well as Palestinian demography swayed Sharon. The Land of Israel ideology had exposed Israels vulnerability. The eight thousand Jewish settlers among over one million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, was an invitation to international pressure. Sharon amazed everyone by suddenly talking about the need to end the occupation. He pre-empted the Roadmap by implementing the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. His outraged critics, in and out of the Likud, accused him of hook and by crook tactics. He was branded a dictator. However, Sharon could not have implemented his plans without the support of a majority of Israelis as represented in the Knesset. Like David Ben-Gurion who compromised in accepting the U.N. Partition Plan back in 1948, Sharon also opted for pragmatic politics.

Sharon's unilateral disengagement was a move that is forcing the Palestinians to make a strategic shift in giving up the terror card. If they don't, there will be no Roadmap negotiations for a Palestinian state. It is a gambit that Palestinian society has yet to resolve. Will a new Israeli leadership emerge to cope with a disintegrating Palestinian society that has yet to determine whether it prefers to get Palestine or would it rather make war with Israel, or perhaps both? And who can deal with the specter of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iranians who talk of wiping the Jewish state off the map. Ariel Sharon inspired confidence in the face of grave threats for a majority of Israelis. On this sad Sabbath, as they prayed for Ariel Sharon and pondered the future, this was no longer the case.

David Essing

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