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Posted on on January 14th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (




Palestinians may be missing the point on Sharon legacy.

by Mazal Mualem    Posted January 13, 2014

Mazal Mualem picture

Mazal Mualem


Mazal Mualem is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, specializing in Israeli politics and social issues. From 2003 until 2011 she served as the senior political correspondent of Israeli daily Haaretz. Later she joined Israeli daily Maariv as their senior political correspondent and wrote a weekly political column. Parallel to her writing activities, she presents a weekly TV show covering social issues on the Knesset channel.

Mazal Mualem was born in the town of Migdal Haemek, and started her journalistic career during her military service in Israel, where she was assigned to the weekly army newspaper Bamachane.

Mazal Mualem holds a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University in security/political science.

From her name we assume that her family came to Israel from an Arab country.


She writes:

The Palestinians’ insistence on regarding late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, even after his death, as nothing more than a war criminal responsible for the massacre in Sabra and Shatila and the construction of the settlements is overly simplistic and anachronistic. More than anything else, this approach misses the complexity of the man and the central leadership role he had in Israeli history. Yes, Sharon did build settlements, but on two occasions he also removed Jews from their homes: once, when serving as defense minister, when he evacuated the Sinai settlements in 1982, as part of the peace agreement with Egypt; and again, as prime minister, when he developed and implemented the plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip and the north of the West Bank in 2005.

When senior Fatah member Jibril Rajoub bemoans the fact that he never got to see Sharon tried as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court and accuses him of assassinating PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat — and he does this on the very day that Sharon died — he is giving voice to a very narrow and selective worldview. When my colleague Daoud Kuttab turns to the younger generation of Palestinians and only attributes the massacre in the refugee camps to Sharon, without mentioning the evacuation of Yamit (from the Sinai), the Disengagement and the establishment of the Kadima Party — which Sharon thought of as a platform to consolidate an agreement with the Palestinians — he is distorting the image and person of Sharon as a bold and pragmatic leader.


Some of the Palestinian spokespeople sounded a lot like Israel’s extreme right, which was also happy about the death of the former prime minister. They chose to disparage him and his memory before he was brought to rest. Knesset member Orit Strock of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party, for example, accused Sharon of destroying his country and thanked God for his death. Both Rajoub and Strock, who has since apologized, regard Sharon as a demonic, destructive figure. The one-dimensional way in which the Palestinian representative and the representative of Israel’s extreme right wing see Sharon is, perhaps, the best possible proof of the many layers and conflicts that made up his life.


Sharon’s second term as prime minister, in which he made some of the most fundamental decisions by any Israeli leader concerning the Palestinians since Rabin decided to embrace the Oslo Accord, sums up his leadership. He was pragmatic, cynical and capable of making a decision and implementing it through the power of his leadership. With regard to the conflict with the Palestinians and the promotion of a two-state solution, he left an enormously important legacy behind that will determine how future challenges are confronted. He proved that the sovereign State of Israel is capable of making a controversial decision and implementing it, without having the government’s legitimacy be challenged.


The man who once declared that Gaza Strip settlement Netzarim is just like Tel Aviv, and then went through a metamorphosis and evacuated Netzarim out of a deep belief that by doing so he would be bolstering Israel’s security, proved that an Israeli prime minister can make pivotal decisions, great decisions, even if threats of bloodshed and civil war loom in the background. Sharon did not blink when he evacuated the settlements, even though he was also the person who put them there. He did it at the very moment it seemed as if the state had since lost its ability to make big decision, and in so doing he restored faith in the state to many. That is a central part of his legacy.


He displayed great courage when he shattered the political status quo between the Likud and Labor parties. In what has since become known as the “Big Bang,” he united politicians from the left and the right into a large centrist party. What did President Shimon Peres and former Minister Haim Ramon, two dovish politicians from the Labor Party, see in Sharon that the Palestinians still do not see today? They said it themselves on countless occasions: the man who rightfully earned the title of “Father of the Settlements,” woke up from the illusion of the occupation and became a powerful leader, who could make difficult decisions and bring them to fruition.


Sharon even paved the way for his heir former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and later for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to make painful concessions, when he showed them that the state remains intact even after the evacuation of settlements from a strip of land and its transfer to the Palestinians. Then, like now, the predominant feeling was that given the large number of settlements, no one could move them. Furthermore, before Sharon the last prime minister to make concessions to the Palestinians and seriously withdraw from the occupied territories was Yitzhak Rabin, who paid for it with his life.


It’s no coincidence that US Vice President Joe Biden, perhaps even more than Israeli leaders, was able to put his finger on precisely what it was about Sharon’s multifaceted personality that made him a great leader. In a very moving and personal speech that Biden delivered at the state funeral in Knesset Square on Jan. 13, he described Sharon as a complex individual and noted that it was this feature that characterizes all the great leaders of history. He related how Sharon would come into conflict with the US administration on numerous occasions, but, “like all historic leaders, all real leaders, he had a north star that guided him, a north star from which he never, in my observation, never deviated. His north star was the survival of the state of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they resided.” Biden spoke of the political courage that Sharon had, and recalled the Disengagement Plan, when he told thousands of Israelis to leave their homes. “I can’t think of a more difficult and controversial decision he made,” said Biden.


Biden added that Sharon “was a complicated man, and to understand him, history will judge that he also lived in complex times, in a very complex neighborhood. I would say that Ariel Sharon’s journey and the journey of the State of Israel are inseparable.” At the end of his speech, Biden rightly raised the question, “What would have happened if he had been healthy and lived?” Sharon left the public stage when he was at the height of his political career as a leader. He had big plans to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, and he had the strength needed to implement those plans. So what would have happened had he not slipped into a coma? We can only imagine.

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Sharon’s legacy: Only death is irreversible

by Akiva Eldar, January 13, 2014

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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It was in the spring of 1992, a number of months after the Madrid Conference, which began the peace process, and before the elections to the Knesset that ended 15 years of Likud Party rule. Ariel Sharon, then the minister of housing in the Shamir government, invited me to tour the Samaria region. From the heights of one of the hills near the Alfei Menashe settlement, he pointed to innumerable, randomly scattered clusters of red roofs, and many gleaming asphalt roads crisscrossing the landscape.

“You’re probably asking yourself, what’s the point of scattering small settlements on every hilltop, instead of concentrating all of them in one settlement?” Sharon thundered in his unique voice and explained, “This dispersion is intended to prevent any government established in Israel from returning to the borders of the Green Line and enabling the creation of a Palestinian state.”

Twenty-two years later, cabinet members who passed before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s coffin, knew that not too long from now they will have to choose between the creation of a Palestinian state, with a western border based on the Green Line, and a diplomatic-security crisis and the risk of an economic boycott. The motto “Another goat and another dunam” that Sharon inherited from the leaders of the mother party of Israel’s Labor Party, Mapai, who founded the state, has ended its role. The 1977 plan, “A million Jews in Judea and Samaria,” which was meant to thwart the plan to divide the land, has passed from the world.

Despite the generous aid that Sharon and his heirs have offered, and still offer, the settlers, less than 400,000 Jews, 5% of Israel’s population, have chosen to settle in the West Bank. Two-thirds of them are crowded in areas abutting the Green Line. The vast dispersion of isolated settlements all over the West Bank has not swayed the international community to abandon its insistence on the 1967 borders and on territorial exchange as a key to a diplomatic agreement. There is no phenomenon that causes more damage to Israel’s status in the world like the settlement enterprise.

As defense minister in Begin’s government (1981-83), Sharon’s goal was to destroy once and for all the idea of dividing the land and perpetuate the vision of Greater Israel. On this issue, too, he achieved the opposite of his intentions. The pursuit of the leadership of the PLO, and Palestinian Authoriy Chairman Yasser Arafat specifically, into Beirut, in the Lebanon War (1982), which was meant to create a “new order” in Lebanon and push out the PLO, embroiled the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a bloody war and strengthened the Shiite, pro-Iranian forces in Lebanon.

More so, the loss of control in Lebanon was the main incentive for Arafat and his exiled friends in Tunisia to recognize Israel within the 1967 borders in 1988, on the basis of UN Resolution 242. From there, the road was already paved for international recognition of the PLO, the convening of the Madrid Conference, the return of the Israeli Labor Party to power, led by the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and to the Oslo Accord.

From his seat in the opposition, Sharon acted as a vocal trumpet for the extreme right, which did not shrink from incitement against Rabin. In an interview with the Kfar Habad ultra-Orthodox journal in 1995, extensively quoted in the daily press, Sharon claimed that Rabin had gone mad. After a short period of calm in the foreign minister’s office in the first Netanyahu government (1996-99), Sharon made his way to the prime minister’s office, upon the ruins of the Oslo process.

His provocative ascent to the Temple Mount in September 2000, at the height of the efforts to revive the failing negotiations at Camp David, gave the signal for the outbreak of the second intifada. The journalist Uri Dan, who was Sharon’s good friend, later recounted, “Arik would call me and ask, do I think there’s a connection between his ascent to the Temple Mount and him becoming prime minister? I answered him in the same way that he asked, ‘And what do you think, Arik, is there a connection?’ There was silence on the other end of the line.”

The series of suicide bombings, whose peak was the murder of 30 Israelis gathered for a Passover traditional meal at the Park Hotel in Netanya, was the grounds for Prime Minister Sharon’s decision, in March 2002, to launch Operation Defensive Shield. While the IDF assault on the cities of the West Bank fatally damaged terrorist elements, it also heavily damaged the physical and political infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.

Moreover, in his book, A Look at the Resistance from Within, Mohammed Arman, a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, who is sentenced to 36 life sentences for the murder of more than 40 Israelis, tells how Sharon played into Hamas’ hands. The arch-terrorist revealed that all Hamas units received directions from above to thwart the Arab peace initiative on the eve of its anticipated approval at the Arab League summit in Beirut. The initiative was approved on March 28; the bombing in Netanya took place on March 29. On March 29, Sharon announced Operation Defensive Shield. The din of battle in Jenin and Ramallah drowned out the regional voice of peace from Riyadh to the Maghreb.

A few months before Sharon directed the IDF to surround the Muqata and isolate Arafat from the outside world, the former head of the Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, who was one of Sharon’s advisers, said in an interview with the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharanoth (Dec. 7, 2001) that if Israel could get rid of Arafat, “No one could step into his shoes to open doors among world leaders, and the Palestinian question will fall from the international agenda.” In the same interview Shavit also argued that [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is “a member of the Bahai faith,” and therefore his appointment as Arafat’s heir “is like appointing a Samaritan as president of the State of Israel.”

Abu Mazen, as we know, was appointed prime minister, a fact that did not prevent Sharon from calling him “a chick who hasn’t sprouted feathers” in a government meeting. When it became clear that despite his efforts to ground Abu Mazen, the two-state solution wasn’t disappearing from the world’s agenda, Sharon formulated the plan for disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The problem was that the disengagement, which was not coordinated with Abu Mazen, led to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, the diplomatic process was launched again.

The followers of the “new Sharon,” who claim that the evacuation of the settlements of Gush Katif testifies to Sharon’s reversal in his final political days, are urged to read the interview/confession Sharon’s right-hand man, Dov Weissglass, gave the Israeli daily Haaretz in October 2004.

Here are some enlightening quotations: “The disengagement is actually formaldehyde in which you put the president’s [George W. Bush’s] plan, so that it can be kept for a very long time. It supplied the necessary amount of formaldehyde so that there wouldn’t be a diplomatic process with the Palestinians. … Arik [Ariel Sharon] does not see Gaza as an area of national interest today. He does see Judea and Samaria as a region of national interest. He justifiably thinks that we are still very, very far from the time where we could reach final arrangements in Judea and Samaria.

“What I basically agreed with the Americans was that we don’t deal at all with some of the settlements, and with other settlements we won’t deal until the Palestinians turn into Finns. … Basically, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed from our agenda for an unlimited time. And all this is officially authorized. All this is with a presidential blessing and the approval of the two houses of Congress.

“There was a very difficult package of commitments that they expected Israel to accept. They called this package the diplomatic process. It included components that we could never accept and components that we can’t accept today. But now we have succeeded in taking this package and pushing it past the mountains of time. With the right management, we’ve succeeded in removing the issue of the diplomatic process from the agenda. And we have educated the world that there’s no one to talk to.”

There’s something symbolic, perhaps historical poetic justice, in that the man who dedicated his life to creating an irreversible reality in the occupied territories has passed away just as the diplomatic and political reality at the beginning of 2014 reminds us that only death is irreversible.  

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