ARIEL SHARON, 1928-2014: REQUIESCAT IN PACE?
"Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday, was unquestionably a historic figure. He fought in all of Israel’s major wars – including the disastrous 1982 Lebanon invasion he essentially originated. He is also the principal architect of an Israeli settlement policy long designed to make the occupation of roughly half the West Bank and most of Arab east Jerusalem permanent. While all can agree – as no portrait of Sharon and his impressive but dynamic bulk neglects to point out – that he was “larger than life”, only within the solipsistic terms of debate of much of Israel’s political elite, and those who defer to it, can he be seen as a great statesman and master strategist.... He built the wall or “separation barrier” on yet more annexed territory, which according to UN figures means Palestinians have in total lost access to four-fifths of their ground water and two-thirds of their arable and grazing land. Only then did he pull out of Gaza, in which, unlike the West Bank, Israel has never had any ideological or emotional investment. A domestic bonus was that, by splitting the irredentist Likud, he conjured himself by magic into the off-centre of Israel’s political spectrum. Internationally, he secured even more. President Bush, dutifully followed by Tony Blair, in April 2004 endorsed an Israeli letter that took the right of return of more than 4m Palestinian refugees off the negotiating table, and assigned to Israel the big blocs of West Bank settlements. By giving up Gaza, Israel enhanced its claim to the West Bank. Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s closest aide, crowed to Ha’aretz newspaper that “this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda”. Current US efforts to rekindle negotiations that would give Palestinians a state notwithstanding, he may well be right. Those who differ on this, and now acclaim Sharon as the lost Nixon/De Gaulle/Begin who could close a deal with the Palestinians, need to consider several things. Why, since Oslo, has the number of settlers been growing at more than three times the rate of the population increase in Israel proper (that is, inside the pre-1967 borders)? Why is the occupied land Israel holds and evidently intends to keep – about 54 per cent of the West Bank – identical in all essentials to the land set aside in Sharon’s 1982 map? The strategic questions about Sharon the master strategist both go back to 1982. His blood-soaked invasion of Lebanon triggered the turn in international public opinion against Israel. That may have been made irreversible by the Sharon-championed colonisation of Palestinian land. Both legacies jeopardise Israel’s future. If strategy is in good part about the long term, then Sharon, like so many of his Arab opponents, was merely a clever tactician – too clever by half".David Gardner, "A clever tactician who was too clever by half". The Financial Times. 13 January 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Israel's greatest problem is to find the means of being able to live with the Arabs. There are 2.5 million of us and 100 million of them. We can fight them, kill them, and they can kill us, but in the final analysis we will have to live with them....Occupation is not the final word."Moshe Dayan then Israeli Defense Minister, 21st June 1969, quoted in Amos Perlmutter, "Unilateral withdrawal Israel's Security Option." Foreign Affairs. (Fall 1985), p. 148. As the usually bien pensant Financial Times commentator David Gardner correctly notes, the late Israeli Prime Minister, was indeed in ways a 'clever tactician' and a subpar strategist. Which concretely means that all throughout his storied career, Sharon singularly failed to understand the true 'facts on the ground' stated so overtly by his predecessor as Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan. Admittedly, Dayan for much of his own career, also failed to recognize and act upon his own prescient insight. The fact is, that regardless of its current, favorable security position, the Israeli state in the longue durée , will be forced by circumstances to give in to its underlying geographical and demographic situation as reflected in the region where it is located. Certainly not to-day, nor to-morrow, nor five or ten years from now, but perhaps within twenty to thirty years from now, Israel will by the force de la chose to moderate its current policies both as regards the rule over the Palestinians on the West Bank, as well as its own internal political structure as it involves Israel's self-definition as a 'Jewish State'. In that respect, for all his tactical brilliance, Sharon resembles nothing so much (in this respect only of course) as a Wehrmacht General serving on the Eastern front during the Second World War, whose many victories could not prevent the eventual defeat of Germany by the Soviet Union 1. 1. For a similar view of Sharon's legacy, see: Hussein Ibish, "The Sharon Doctrine: The Mixed Legacy of an Israeli Unilateralist." Foreign Affairs. 13 January 2014, in www.foreignaffairs.com.