A childhood in conflict
The younger of two children, Ariel Sharon was born to Russian immigrants Shmuel
and Devorah “Vera” Scheinerman on February 27, 1928, on a small moshav named
Kfar Malal located near Kfar Saba, in the Sharon plain in the country’s
center. At the suggestion of one of his mentors, Israel’s first prime
minister, David Ben-Gurion, he changed his last name to Sharon.
born into a life that was immediately filled with conflict. His parents, who
came to Palestine only in 1922, were often at odds with their neighbors over
farming issues. If the moshav decided that “everyone should plant oranges and
lemons,” recalled Sharon, his father would “insist on experimenting with
mandarins and mangoes.”
The Scheinermans’ relationship with the moshav
was further strained by the murder of Zionist socialist leader Haim Arlosoroff
“I cannot forget the agonies of those days,” wrote Sharon in an
op-ed article for The Jerusalem Post in 1994. “Even before the end of the
investigation into the murder, the Left exploited the tragic event by slandering
members of the Revisionist Movement led by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, as if they had
“My parents, members of Mapai – the Labor Party of
those days – were so riled by that blood libel that they openly voted for the
Jabotinsky movement, the Left’s enemy,” noted Sharon. “Only those who lived on a
moshav or kibbutz in those days can understand how much courage this took.
Immediately my parents suffered severe sanctions. We were ostracized by the
moshav for many years.”
The family was expelled from the local healthfund
clinic and village synagogue. The moshav’s truck would not make deliveries to
their farm, nor collect their produce.
The antagonism was so bitter that
even in his will Shmuel requested that no one from Kfar Malal eulogize him and
that his body not be driven to the cemetery in a community
Outside his moshav, Sharon’s childhood was marked by Arab
violence. Kfar Malal itself had been destroyed by Arabs in 1921 and rebuilt.
Fearing the village would again be attacked during the Arab riots of 1929,
Sharon’s mother at one point took Sharon, aged one, and his three-year-old
sister, Yehudit, to a nearby barn to hide.
His father was twice ambushed
by Arabs in the 1930s and, as Sharon recalled, often carried a pistol with him.
His mother, he said, slept with one under her pillow.
Images of an enemy
lurking outside made him determined rather than fearful, wrote Sharon in his
autobiography, The Warrior. Newspaper stories of Jews who had gone to fight
against fascism in the Spanish Civil War inspired him. Sitting on a stool in the
kitchen, “I would imagine the Jewish warriors and dream a child’s dream of
heroism,” he recalled.
By age 13, Sharon defended Kfar Malal at night
with a club and a dagger he had received as bar-mitzva presents. Just a year
later, he was initiated into the Hagana, the main pre-state underground
Standing in an orange grove, with a Bible in one hand and a pistol
in the other, he swore a Hagana oath of allegiance to defend his
Throughout high school he trained with the Hagana, learning how
to use arms and memorizing the surrounding landscape. Writing in the Post a
half-century later, he recalled how a rumor spread in his Tel Aviv high school
one day that visiting Polish soldiers were beating Jews in the street. “We
grabbed what we could – wooden staves, iron bars – and rushed out to stop Jews
Growing up, Sharon had assumed he would remain on the farm
and help his father grow clementines, avocados and cotton. This dream was
forever changed when he was called up to fight in the War of
The lessons of Latrun
As a student, Sharon described
himself as ordinary. But his tactical and leadership skills made him
stand out on the battlefield during the war. In the winter of 1947-8, the
20-year-old was promoted to platoon leader in the Alexandroni Brigade after
leading the attack against an Iraqi base, Bir Addas, near Kfar Malal.
it was the failed battle to capture the police headquarters in Latrun from the
Jordanian Legion in May 1948 that made a lasting impression on him.
feeling of betrayal over what he considered poor decision-making on the part of
his commanders helped feed his sense that in tight spots he could rely only on
his own judgment. The dead and wounded soldiers left there haunted him and
became the basis for his and the IDF’s edict not to abandon comrades in the
In his autobiography, he described how he and his soldiers lay in
a depressed spot in a field in the early morning hours to avoid the Jordanian
bullets that flew over their heads. As the morning fog lifted, he saw that
theirs was the only friendly unit within sight. Their radio had been hit so they
could not call for help and could only pray to be rescued. Sharon himself was
wounded as he and his men warded off the Jordanian assaults.
In a 2001
interview with the Post, Sharon described how helpless he felt. “There was no
chance of getting out of there. I was seriously injured in my hip and in my
knee, and there were many losses. During this battle, two soldiers in my unit
crawled to me.
They asked, ‘How will you get us out of here?’ I was weak
from my injuries and told them that we were already six months in battle and
that they [had been] with me at a number of different places. And I told them
that at every place I managed to bring them home. I then said they should go
back to their positions and do what I tell them to do.
“When they left I
heard one say, ‘Sure, he took us out of different places before, but I want to
know how he is going to get us out of here now.’
“I always remember that it cut
me to the soul. Then I thought, maybe I should have told them, first
we’ll go to that tree, and then move to that rock, and then another tree. That
would have calmed them down. In the end, in my unit there were 15 dead, 13
injured, five captives and four were not hurt. Those who came to me were among
Moving with difficulty due to his wounds, Sharon was
rescued from the field by another soldier, who offered him a shoulder to lean
on. He passed out just as a jeep drove through the field looking for
As he convalesced, he would write later, “I could not tear my
mind away from what had happened. I thought about how we had been left out there
alone. Why hadn’t one of the commanders been there to see what had happened and
get us off the field? If only someone had been there to make the
From then on as a soldier and as a political leader, Sharon
was known for his obsession with winning, and he always acknowledged his solo
leadership traits – notably at a press conference on his departure from the IDF
in 1973. “I have always maintained,” he said, “that the only group I belong to
consists of my family, my wife Lily, my mother, my sons Omri and
The daring commander of 101
As a military leader, Sharon inspired
many of the men who worked under him. He won acclaim for his tactical abilities,
but was often chastised for failing to follow orders, for incurring heavy IDF
and Palestinian civilian losses, for unnecessarily expanding the scope of the
operations assigned to him, for not presenting all the facts to his commanders
and even, in some cases, for lying to them.
The Post in 1981
editorialized that Sharon’s military career “can be categorized as brilliant
until 1954, turbulent between 1956 and 1973 and controversial in 1973, [and] is
pockmarked with personal animosities… He is a man for whom prudence is a
foreign, perhaps a nonexistent word. He is a man… who never carried out orders
but always created his own reality.”
Still, when it came to the
battlefield, Sharon was often the soldier his superiors most counted on to
execute difficult and aggressive assignments.
Ben-Gurion in particular
was inclined to forgive his flaws, believing that Sharon had the potential to
become chief of staff. Before retiring Ben-Gurion asked Yitzhak Rabin, then
incoming chief of staff, to look out for him.
“You know I have a special
relationship with Ariel Sharon I regard him as one of Israel’s best military men
and one of the more superb warriors the country has seen. If only he would be
more truthful, I would help him advance,” Ben-Gurion told Rabin, according to
Gadi Bloom and Nir Hefez in their biography, The Shepherd: The Life Story of
After the War of Independence, Sharon rose to the rank of
chief of intelligence to the Northern Command before he took time off to study
history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
He first made his mark
nationally in 1953 when he was recruited away from his studies by Jerusalem
Brigade head Col. Mishael Shacham and chief of General Staff Mordechai Makleff
to head a special reconnaissance from the 101 Commando Unit known as the
“Avengers.” It executed daring raids to root out terrorism both within Israel
and across the border into Jordan. The intent was to quell terrorist attacks
against Israelis, which had claimed hundreds of lives in the early
With that unit as a model, Sharon in the 1950s, helped the IDF
implement the principles of severe retaliation for fatal attacks against Israeli
In one controversial raid, he was ordered to destroy the major
buildings known to harbor terrorists in Kibya on the Jordanian border in
retaliation for the murder of a mother and her two small children as they slept
in their home. During the raid 42 buildings were razed and 69 Arabs, including
women and children, were killed.
Sharon in his autobiography said his
soldiers removed civilians before taking action, so he was surprised to hear of
so many deaths on Jordanian radio the next morning. He could only imagine that
the people had been hiding unbeknownst to him in their homes.
act was condemned within Israel and abroad, the army did not discipline Sharon.
Instead it expanded his command’s scope to include the Paratroopers Battalion
890, which merged with the 101 Commando Unit to lead raids into Egypt and Syria
as well as Jordan.
It was here that Uri Dan, a war correspondent, first
met Sharon. He had hiked to Sharon’s secret Tel Nof base in hopes of doing a
story on the unit.
Sharon’s office was a small shack with a light bulb
hanging from the ceiling. Sitting with his beret in front of him on the a table,
Sharon was startled that Dan knew of his unit and wanted to know who had leaked
the information to him.
“I do not remember,” Dan responded.
“Refresh your memory,” Sharon said. “We have all night.”
In spite of his military success, Sharon’s loss of 40 soldiers at
the Mitla Pass during the 1956 Suez War temporarily halted his advancement in
As commander of Paratrooper Battalion 202, he took the pass in
spite of orders that he refrain from doing so.
Sharon defended the move
by explaining that the patrol he sent to explore the situation was trapped by
Egyptian fire and needed to be rescued. But his superiors felt that the patrol
itself was unnecessary.
Sharon was sidelined by the IDF hierarchy. In the
lull that followed he focused on his studies. He took classes in military
studies at Staff College in the UK and completed a law degree at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem.
But his military career was far from
Love and loss
In 1952, Sharon married his childhood sweetheart
Margalit, known as Gali. A Romanian immigrant and a psychiatric nurse, she had
spent her teenage years on a farm near Kfar Malal.
Their family life was
short-lived. Gali was killed in a car crash in 1962 while on her way back home
from Jerusalem, leaving Sharon alone with their five-yearold son,
Dan, who was sent to break the news to Sharon, recalled how “Ariel
stood stunned, his red eyes full of tears.”
Gali’s sister, Lily, came to
help Sharon take care of his son. The pair soon fell in love and were married in
1963. They had two sons together, Omri, born in 1964, and Gilad in
Dan recalled in an article for the Post the connection Sharon felt
for his first son.
“Arik loved to ride on horseback with Gur and in 1967
traveled with him throughout the country after the Six Day War. The photo Sharon
likes best is one of him hugging Gur against the background of the liberated
Western Wall in Jerusalem,” Dan wrote.
Tragedy struck Sharon’s family a
second time on the eve of Rosh Hashana in 1967. Gur, then 10, was shot by a
friend while the two boys played outside with an antique gun that had hung on
the wall Sharon was on the phone when he heard the shot ring out. He raced out
of the house and saw his son sprawled on the ground, with blood on his face from
a wound in his eye.
No transportation was available because Lily had
taken the car to do last-minute shopping. Clutching Gur in his arms Sharon raced
through the streets looking for a lift to the nearby clinic. Gur died as Sharon
held him en route from the clinic to the hospital.
Standing over Gur’s
grave, Sharon said he felt he had broken the pledge he had made at Gali’s grave
to always care for their son.
“This kept coming back to me, again and
again. I didn’t take care of him. I just didn’t take care of him. For the
first time in my life I felt that I was facing something I could not overcome,
that I could not live through,” Sharon would later write. “I was obsessed by all
the things I might have done. If only I had not stayed on the phone, if only I
had watched more carefully, a thousand ifs.”
The controversial general
Sharon’s army career was resurrected in 1964 by then chief of staff Rabin, who
appointed him chief of Northern Command headquarters. By 1966, Sharon was
promoted to the rank of major-general.
During the Six Day War he
advocated a number of bold strategies that enabled the Armored Reserve Division
138, which he commanded, to reach the Suez Canal. He lost 40 soldiers in
comparison to the more than 1,000 Egyptians who were killed in the
When the war ended, he worked on a strategy for crossing the
canal in the event of future hostilities.
His canal strategy brought him
head-to-head with then Chief of General Staff Haim Bar-Lev, who had an different
plan to fortify the canal. Sharon’s past controversial actions had already
created a history of acrimony between them. Bar Lev now sought to oust Sharon
from the IDF.
As a ploy to thwart Bar-Lev’s efforts to expel him, Sharon
threatened to quit the military for politics. At the time, it was expected that
high-ranking military officers such as Sharon, if entering politics, would
enroll in the “establishment” Labor Party. Sharon, however, announced his
intention to join the right-wing bloc of the Revisionist Zionist party – Herut –
and the more centrist Liberal Party – a move he knew could harm Labor in the
elections. It was a successful maneuver.
To offset a political threat
from Sharon, then-finance minister Pinchas Sapir persuaded Bar-Lev to keep
Sharon in uniform. In exchange for an apology to Bar-Lev, Sharon was given the
Southern Command and asked to quell the terrorist threat in Gaza.
the Yom Kippur War, “I used to think that the Gaza campaign was one of the most
significant chapters in my military experience,” wrote Sharon in his
In the five months from July to December 1971, his
soldiers killed 104 terrorists and arrested 742 others, in comparison to the 179
terrorists the IDF had stopped from 1967 until June 1973.
One of his many
tactics was to simply destroy the bunkers where the gunmen hid with a bulldozer.
“I gave a standing order that battalion commanders who were out looking at some
suspected area should always bring a bulldozer along with them,” he
With an eye toward creating space for future settlements in
northern Sinai, Sharon’s soldiers evicted Beduin from the area, a move that drew
much criticism but was upheld by the High Court of Justice.
complained about the harshness of Sharon’s methods. He would at times impose a
24-hour curfew on the refugee camps, according to Sigalit Zetouni in the book
Sharon: Israel’s Warrior Politician.
She claimed Sharon’s soldiers would
gather the Palestinian men in the camps’ squares for questioning while soldiers
searched house to house. At other times the men were forced to stand for hours
waist deep in the Mediterranean Sea.
Sharon also warned that parents of
children who threw stones at soldiers would be dropped off at the Jordanian
border with a water bottle, bread and a white flag.
One senior commander,
Yitzhak Abadi, resigned in protest over Sharon’s policies.
afterward, in February 1973, Sharon heard then defense minister Moshe Dayan
announce on television that his mission in Gaza had ended. Privately, Dayan told
Sharon that his term as head of Southern Command would not be renewed when it
expired at the end of 1973. He also confirmed Sharon’s worst fear – that he had
no hope of fulfilling his dream of becoming chief of staff.
retirement in the summer of 1973, Sharon turned his attention to politics, this
time in earnest.
He had been a Labor Party member more out of tradition
and expediency than ideology. His neighbors in Kfar Malal had all belonged to
But now Sharon stumped for the right-wing bloc, signing up as a
member of the center-right Liberal Party.
His family and Herut leader
Menachem Begin had connections that went back to Brest-Litovsk, where Sharon’s
grandmother had helped Begin’s mother give birth in 1904. When Theodor Herzl
died, his grandfather and Begin’s father were among a group of Zionists who
broke down the synagogue door to hold a memorial service against the rabbi’s
With an eye toward pushing Labor out of the government, where it
had been since the state’s creation, Sharon convinced Begin that what was needed
was a united bloc of right-wing parties, under a new title: Likud –
Sharon recalled how, in those days, he worked mornings on
a new farm he had purchased in the Negev – the farm that remained his home and
his haven for the rest of his life. He then spent his afternoons in Tel Aviv in
political meetings as a new Liberal Party member, working to bring the Free
Center and La’am parties into the Liberal and Herut bloc. Sitting in sandals,
his feet black from the dirt of the farm, he would write later, he stuck out a
little among the polished politicians.
1973: Across the canal
sudden outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, Sharon was called back to
the IDF to serve in Sinai, where he once again emerged a hero.
commander of Armored Reserve Division 143 he helped lead the historic crossing
of the Suez Canal and ordered his men to push forward toward Cairo.
were 100 km. away from the Egyptian capital when a cease-fire was declared
Sharon’s actions had helped shift the war decisively in Israel’s
During one battle, he was lightly wounded in the forehead. Instead
of retiring from the battlefield, he kept working, a large white bandage around
his head – a move that made him even more popular with soldiers.
were pasted onto some army vehicles by his soldiers proclaiming “Arik, King of
Sharon called the Yom Kippur War victory “the greatest of our
military triumphs.” But while he was successful on the field, he was once more
immediately embroiled in conflicts with his superior and other field
Dan, who joined Sharon at the front, said loyally of him, “On
the one hand he was fighting the Egyptians, while on the other he had to
struggle against IDF generals Shmuel Gorodish [Gonen] and Haim Bar-Lev and the
[chief of General Staff] David (Dado) Elazar.”
Sharon always claimed that
they did not want him to be among those who led the charge across the
Their dislike of him, he said, cost the IDF two critical days in
which they could have achieved “even greater victory.”
chiefly former OC Southern Command Shmuel Gonen, in turn charged that Sharon
disobeyed orders given by superiors.
Mistrust was so high among Sharon
and the other commanders who worked with him in the field that they monitored
his activity by listening in to his radio transmissions. Instead of speaking
directly they passed notes through lower-level staff officers, according to Uzi
Benziman in his book Sharon: An Israeli Caesar.
Following the war, the
Agranat Commission of Inquiry, which examined IDF failures, investigated Gonen’s
charges and cleared Sharon of any wrongdoing.
“I believe orders should be
obeyed, but sometimes you have to think about the orders you get,” he would tell
the BBC later that decade.
The contradiction between Sharon’s history of
military disobedience and his insistence that soldiers obey orders during the
August 2005 disengagement was used by settlers in their fight to keep Gaza in
hopes of swaying soldiers not to evacuate them from their homes. Settlers often
played tapes of Sharon speaking about the right of a soldier to disobey
In his autobiography, Sharon said that more than disobedience,
what bothered him on reflection were the orders which he had obeyed against his
better judgment that led to the needless loss of men. “I should have disobeyed
an order I knew was wrong. I should have disobeyed and accepted a court martial
for my disobedience,” he wrote.
At the war’s end, with his path to
advancement blocked, Sharon left the IDF for political life again, telling his
soldiers, “I leave the army in order to fight on another front so as to prevent
The new MK
Sharon was one of 38 new Likud politicians
elected to the Knesset at the end of 1973, but quickly become frustrated with
political life and yearned to return to the IDF.
“Life as an MK was not
something I had bargained for either,” he wrote later. “The day-in-day-out of
politicking, the continued smiling and talking and backslapping, was not
something I enjoyed. I attended. I participated.
But I felt the work and
especially the atmosphere was a burden. I couldn’t stand the Knesset dining room
with all its noise and eternal dealing, and I found myself trying to avoid all
the action rather than embracing it.”
He recalled how he often hid in a
side room with a Beduin Labor MK to talk about the Negev, rather than work the
halls. By December 1974 he had resigned – quitting the Knesset in mid-session.
He was dividing his time between his reserve duties and the farm until Rabin
asked him in 1975 to be one of his security advisers, in part to create an
unofficial alternative to his defense minister, Shimon Peres.
hoped it would put him back on track for chief of staff, but his efforts were
stymied by others in the army as well as Peres.
Sharon resigned as
security adviser in 1976 and returned to politics, but was still unable to carve
out a powerful space for himself within the Likud.
Angry at the Left over
his lack of progress in the army and feeling he was going nowhere politically
with the Right, Sharon formed a more centrist party, called Shlomzion, at the
end of 1976. He talked with the Post at the time about his support for
territorial concessions in exchange for peace. It was among the early signs of
what his critics later would call a lack of ideological principle and his
admirers would call pragmatism.
In what now seems like an odd political
pairing, he tried to offer the party’s No. 2 slot to well known leftwing
politician Yossi Sarid. He enlisted left-wing journalist Amos Kenan to work with
him in the party and even asked him to try to arrange a meeting with the
Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, a move that was illegal
at the time.
“It does not matter with whom you talk, but what you talk
about,” Sharon said in a 1976 press conference.
In speaking with the
Post, Sharon rejected either a right- or a left-wing label. Noting wryly that he
was seen as a “blood-and-thunder type” with a reputation for “sending soldiers
to their doom,” he said that he viewed himself as a man who “wants peace” and is
The primary guiding principle in that pursuit, he
emphasized, was “no withdrawal, not even one centimeter, without a peace
treaty.” Until Israel was able to negotiate borders, he said, it should retain
for its defense whatever land was necessary in what he described as the
Nor did he buy the demographic argument that
called for a separation between Arabs and Jews to maintain a democratic Jewish
state. “If we went back to the partition border of 1947, there would still be an
Arab minority,” he said, “so it’s nonsense to talk of withdrawing into a purely
Chuckling, he went on, “My opinions are aggressive, I
admit that. But not my personality. I’m sociable.”
The Post interviewer
described him as “a man of the people, a chap with whom you can exchange
He is fed up with the familiar rigidities, the precedents, the
compromises. He wants to make a clean sweep. Get rid of the notions that have
But when Sharon failed to attract support from the
Center and Left, he moved the party and himself back to the Right. Following
Shlomzion’s poor two-mandate showing in the 1977 elections, in which Begin
brought the Likud to power for the first time in history, Sharon rejoined the
In forming the cabinet, prime minister Begin appointed Sharon
agriculture minister. He also asked him to head the Ministerial Settlement
At home on the Right
With that, Sharon settled into his role
as a right-wing politician with an eye on the Likud’s top spot. Even then, he
did not profess himself an ideologue. In comparing himself with Begin, Sharon
said, he was a “more pragmatic Zionist” – as opposed to “political Zionist”
He had grown up in a milieu that taught him to focus on action
rather than ideas and looked, he said, to “create facts on the ground. Reclaim
another acre, drain another swamp, acquire another cow.” The general attitude
was “don’t talk about it, just get it done.”
With this credo in mind,
Sharon in 1977 swayed the cabinet to pass a new plan to settle Judea and
By his own count, within four years he had created 64 new
settlements in the West Bank and 56 in the Galilee.
He also boasted that
he had organized trips, known as “Sharon Tours,” for more than 300,000 people to
see the work in the territories.
“I think I must have talked personally
with every single bulldozer and backhoe operator working on the [building]
projects,” he wrote in his autobiography.
Two Post reporters who took one
of the “Sharon Tours” described him as a “beefy ex-general” who “strides across
the rocky hills of biblical Samaria with a gait resembling the bulldozers he
deploys to build Jewish settlements.” With his “heavy belly and thick thighs
filling the vinyl windbreaker and the cotton pants,” they wrote, “he is almost a
He told those on the tour, “I believe” the settlements “are
here to stay – you can count on it.”
That September, he told the Post
that settlement construction “will give us a sense of security for the first
time, which in turn will permit us to entertain more Arab population than we can
permit ourselves today.”
A year later, he again stressed the importance
of the government pushing forward to develop the settlements.
If not, he
said, he feared international pressure would soon force Israel to halt the
construction of communities which he dreamed could house some two million people
by the turn of the century.
In 1979, he told the Knesset that it “might
as well proclaim a Palestinian state immediately” on any part of the West Bank
that lacked settlements.
At times, his pursuit of settlement construction
threatened to disrupt the ongoing negotiations toward a peace settlement between
Israel and Egypt. But he denied that there was a connection between the two. It
was possible to both make peace and develop the territories, he said. He backed
the peace process with Egypt, even as he continued to build new
Peace with Egypt
The military commander who had risked his
life and that of his soldiers to capture Sinai, Sharon nevertheless now
generally indicated support for returning the desert in exchange for
“I believed that after all these years of bloodshed, we had an
obligation to see if there was a possibility for peaceful coexistence. Egypt was
the most suitable country with which to begin Arab-Israeli negotiations.… The
opportunity had to be taken even though the risk was great,” he wrote in his
Indeed a Sharon phone call with Begin, during the stalled
Camp David talks in 1978, in which he pledged his support for a complete
withdrawal from Sinai, including the evacuation of the settlements, was
instrumental in swaying Begin to accept the deal.
relations between Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat reached a stalemate
in 1981, Sharon helped set up a meeting between the two leaders by sending a
team of Israelis to Egypt to install an irrigation system and a vineyard on
Sadat’s private farm.
Sharon and Sadat had first met face to face at
Ben-Gurion Airport, when Sadat arrived in 1977. Sadat told Sharon he had hoped
to “catch” him in Egypt during the war.
“I’m glad to have you here,”
Sharon deadpanned in reply.
Still Sharon’s public support of the peace
treaty was not entirely robust. He opposed it in the cabinet, supported it in
the Knesset, but then refused to participate in the delegation that traveled to
Washington to sign the deal. Yet he had no choice but to put his personal stamp
on it when his appointment in 1981 as defense minister meant that he was
personally in charge of executing the withdrawal of the last two Sinai
settlements, Ofira and Yamit. He did so even though he had said in 1974 that “I
would never use the army against settlers, because the IDF is the army of the people.”
autobiography, Sharon even speculated that Begin had appointed him to the post
precisely so he could execute the last phase of the three-year
“For months I was plagued by the fact that I was going to
have to do this,” wrote Sharon, who decided it was best to level Yamit rather
than leave it to the Egyptians to develop into a large community on Israel’s
“I did not feel good about it. The government had made promises
to these people when they originally moved in and I knew what kind of sacrifices
the settlers made to build lives for themselves in the desert. I listened to the
settlers who came to argue and plead for their homes, or if not for their homes,
at least to have the buildings intact so they might keep the hope of someday
returning,” wrote Sharon.
In one instance, he recalled how a group of
Yamit settlers visited his farm at night to talk with him and then left to sneak
back past the soldiers already stationed next to Yamit to prevent people from
entering the town.
As a child Sharon had dreamed that it was possible to
live in peace with Arabs, as neighbors. But it was only when negotiations began
with Egypt, he wrote later, that he understood what peace between Israel and an
Arab nation really meant. He recalled how on a visit to Egypt he flew with Sadat
in his plane to scout out land suitable for farming. “I was struck by the idea
that I, the ex-Israeli general who had battled the Egyptians for 25 years, was
in the cockpit with two Egyptian pilots who had fought against me in the last
war.… In my eyes, that was peace indeed.”
The Lebanon debacle
Sharon was building relations with Egyptian officials, he was busy fighting
members of his own party, chiefly Begin, its leader, whom he accused of not
being in control of the government. Begin and his colleagues in turn branded
Sharon a threat to democracy.
“There is an impression that no one is in
charge here,” Sharon wrote of Begin in a letter that he leaked to the media.
Begin in turn told his deputy prime minister Simcha Ehrlich that he would never
appoint Sharon defense minister because “Arik might then ring the Prime
Minister’s Office with tanks and bring down the government.”
In a later
fight, Begin sharply reprimanded Sharon to remember that Israel was still a
democracy. “Thankfully we are not living in George Orwell’s 1984,” Begin
Ehrlich was sharper in his criticism. In 1980, he said, “Arik
Sharon is one of the politicians in Israel who I fear is a danger to the state.”
Sharon, he said, is not capable of “distinguishing between principle and
interest.” He predicted that should Sharon reach power, “he might disband the
Knesset, declare a military dictatorship and set up detention camps for his
Despite such acrimony, Begin in 1981 caved in to
Sharon’s relentless campaign to be appointed defense minister. Likud sources
speculated at the time that Begin feared Sharon would otherwise leave the party,
taking needed members with him.
In June 1982, defense minister Sharon led
the IDF into Lebanon in what was styled “Operation Peace for Galilee.” The
initial intent was to clear a 40-kilometer buffer zone within 48 hours to stop
Arafat’s PLO from shelling homes on Israel’s northern border and from launching
terrorist attack into Israel.
After its expulsion from Jordan in 1970 the
PLO had moved into Lebanon. In one of its more serious attacks, PLO terrorists
traveled from Lebanon to Haifa in 1978 by boat, landed on a beach and hijacked a
tour bus, killing 39 people, among them children. But the final spark that drove
Israel into Lebanon was the June 1982 assassination attempt on Israel’s
ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov. Shot in the head by Palestinian gunmen
outside London’s Dorchester Hotel, Argov was permanently
Sharon told the Hebrew daily Maariv in 2002 he was sorry
he hadn’t killed Arafat that summer. It was not for lack of trying. In his
autobiography, he wrote that he had shelled 40 buildings in Beirut that were PLO
bases or places that Arafat was likely to be. Sharon joked that his efforts,
which drove Arafat to relocate to Tunis by summer’s end, made him more popular
in Beirut than at home. If he were ever driven into political exile he would
move there, he jested.
While Sharon and Begin were both in agreement at
the onset of the war, tensions quickly rose between them as the operation
extended into August and far exceeded its original goals. In charges similar to
those leveled against Sharon when he was an army commander, Begin claimed that
Sharon acted on his own in Lebanon, extending the war’s battlefield beyond the
40-kilometer limit, as well as in bombing and laying siege to
Making light of his frustrations with Begin once quipped, “I
always know what is going on with Sharon. Sometimes before the fact and
sometimes after the fact.”
Sharon always insisted that he had kept Begin
apprised of every step along the way. In defense of his actions during the war,
Sharon in his autobiography painstakingly detailed his efforts to inform the
cabinet, sometimes daily, of all actions in the field.
The issue of his
integrity during the war was so important to Sharon that he brought two failed
suits against Haaretz newspaper and its reporter Uzi Benziman, for alleging that
he had not told Begin of his plans to bomb Beirut.
A number of ministers
felt that they too were being deliberately deceived by Sharon, who at the start
of the war had told them, “Beirut is out of the picture.”
who the time was energy and infrastructure minister, recalled that already three
days after the start of the war, “I reached the conclusion that the cabinet was
not receiving accurate or correct briefings.
We suddenly got a request to
approve a certain move and then another and another.”
During one cabinet
meeting, Berman turned to Sharon and asked, “What conquest will you ask us to
approve the day after tomorrow, to defend the place you conquer tomorrow, on the
basis of our decision today?” Even as Begin was publicly declaring that
operation’s 40-kilometer limit, Sharon was exceeding it. While Begin was stating
in the Knesset, “not a single Syrian soldier will be hurt by our troops,” in
Lebanon, the IDF was battling them. As Washington was told a cease-fire was in
effect, the IDF was still fighting, according to Benziman.
The siege and
bombing of Beirut, particularly an intense three day barrage in mid-August, drew
an outcry from the Israeli public, soldiers and politicians as well as the
international community, which saw Israel’s actions as offensive rather than
One Israeli military leader, Col. Eli Geva, flatly refused to
lead his men into the city and was fired by Sharon.
An angry US president
Ronald Regan sent Begin a letter chastising Israel for its “disproportionate
artillery and air strikes,” for causing civilian deaths and derailing cease-fire
“The relationship between our two nations is in the
balance,” Reagan warned Israel at the end of July.
But for Sharon, the
war was a necessary defensive action that led to the expulsion of 8,856
terrorists, including Arafat, from Israel’s northern border.
his record at a conference on the 10th anniversary of the war in Tel Aviv in
1992, Sharon said that without the IDF’s actions in Lebanon, “there would be no
diplomatic process with the Arab states today. It was only after the removal of
the PLO from Beirut that they realized that they did not have a military
Life in the north is much calmer than it was before Operation
Peace for Galilee, he said. He believed future generations would reassess the
war’s significance and impact.
At no time did Sharon publicly acknowledge
any culpability for the most heinous act of the war; the massacre on September
16 to 18 of at least 700 Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee
camps by Lebanese Christian Phalangists. Palestinians claim that several
thousand people were killed.
Israel initially claimed that the Phalange
snuck by IDF troops protecting the camps. A commission of inquiry headed by
Supreme Court president Yitzhak Kahan found otherwise.
Phalangists had entered the camps in coordination with the IDF, who had asked
the Lebanese Christians to round up the terrorists in the camps. The commission
further found that the IDF did not know in advance that the Phalangists intended
to kill innocent Palestinians.
Still it found Israel indirectly
responsible for the event. It said that the IDF, and specifically Sharon, should
have known the risks involved given that the Phalangists had a past history of
killing innocent civilians.
It was particularly dangerous to let them
into the camps in the period of inflamed emotions following the assassination of
their leader Bashir Gemayel on September 14.
“In the circumstances that
prevailed after Bashir’s assassination, no prophetic powers were required to
know that concrete danger of acts of slaughter existed when the Phalangists were
moved into the camps without the IDF’s being with them,” said the
It added that, “In our view, the Minister of Defense made a
grave mistake when he ignored the danger of acts of revenge and bloodshed by the
Phalangists against the population in the refugee camps.”
framework of indirect responsibility, it therefore found Sharon “personally
responsible.” It also faulted the IDF for not responding quickly enough to
reports of disturbances within the camps.
But Sharon, who ironically
first heard of the killings on the anniversary of his son Gur’s death, on the
eve of Rosh Hashana, said “no one could have foreseen the danger.”
autobiography he accused Begin of feeding him to the mob to satisfy the emotions
of an Israeli public, angry at the losses incurred in the war.
hearing that the cabinet had accepted the results of the Kahan commission
including a suggestion that he could be fired as the result of his actions, he
Upon telling Begin on a Friday that he would leave office by
Monday, Begin responded by asking, “Why wait so long?” At the time, Sharon
warned Begin and the government that acceptance of the Kahan Commission verdict
was a more of a mistake for Israel than for him. It was as if, he said, the
government was admitting it was guilty of murder.
“If you accept the
conclusions of the Kahan Commission, you will be branding the mark of Cain on
the foreheads of the Jewish people and the State of Israel with your own hands,”
“I believe one day the findings of the Kahan Commission will be
overturned in a democratic manner and its conclusions lawfully erased from the
public record,” he said in 1992.
But that day was not to come during his
lifetime. In subsequent years, Sharon was attacked again and again for the
event. Palestinians nicknamed him “the Butcher of Beirut.”
in 1983 published a story indicating that he was responsible for the killings.
It alleged that a secret document showed Sharon had spoken with the Gemayel
family about the need to avenge Bashir’s death.
Sharon sued the magazine.
The case was dismissed in the US because Sharon’s lawyers could not prove
malice, even though they did show that no such document existed. In Israel,
where a suit was also pending, the courts ruled in favor of Sharon against the
A 1991 suit against Sharon in Belgium for war crimes relating
to the Sabra and Shatilla massacre was rejected, but only on technical
In 2002, Antoine Lahad, the military governor of Beirut, told
Yediot Aharonot that neither Sharon nor the IDF was involved in the massacre,
nor did they know it would occur. But he agreed with the Kahan Commission that
Sharon should have known better than to authorize sending the Phalange into the
More than 900 IDF soldiers died during the Lebanon War. The IDF
stayed in Lebanon until 1985, when it withdrew to a 14.4 km. border area. The
last soldier left Lebanon in May 2000.
Sharon’s actions in Lebanon as
well as the Sabra and Shatilla massacre took him out of the Defense Ministry,
but not out of political life. He did not resign from the government or from
politics. Sharon remained a minister- without-portfolio in Begin’s
Bloodied but not bowed
While the public assumed that Sharon,
at age 44, had finished his public life, he was intent on resurrecting his
career. The same strategic genius that had served him well in the military also
rescued him politically.
Step-by-step, through a series of small
victories and defeats, he moved from an “empty office in an empty building” to
the prime minister’s office, over the space of 19 years.
Sharon was the
thorn in the side of every Likud leader.
He viciously attacked each one
in pursuit of power, even as he would at times put aside personal ambition to
help save them for the good of either the party or the nation.
told the newspaper Hadashot in 1993, “I have less ambition than people think;
that is my secret weapon. Unlike my friends, I do not even have a second of
crisis when I am not in the government, but if there is a need, I will return to
Early on, it was clear that while hundreds of thousands of
Israelis had publicly demonstrated against him in Tel Aviv, the Likud voters
still loved him. With the help of his wife Lily, who advised him on all matters
until her death from cancer in 2000, he worked on building that
Already in 1984, in what some saw as a suicidal move,
Sharon challenged Yitzhak Shamir for party leadership.
surprise, Sharon received 42.5 percent of the vote, compared to Shamir’s 56
Before that vote, he said in his autobiography, “I was just
barely hanging on to political life.” In its aftermath, he said, “although I had
no foothold in the party apparatus, it was now absolutely clear that at least I
had a place with the electorate.”
Bolstered by party support, Sharon was
a critical architect of the 1984 National Unity government. In the 1984 general
election, both parties came close to a tie with the Likud receiving 41 mandates
compared to Labor’s 44. Sharon secured the support of the religious parties for
the Likud, thereby blocking Labor from forming a coalition.
He then put
aside his past enmity with Peres and made a secret visit to his home, to
advocate for structure by which both parties would share power through a
rotating premiership between Shamir and Peres.
In return for his efforts,
Sharon was appointed industry and trade minister. Throughout the 1980s and most
of the 1990s, Sharon stood out as a hard-line right-winger, who worked to build
settlements and attacked all efforts at negotiations with the
To underscore his faith in a united Jerusalem, Sharon in
1987 purchased a home in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
At the start
of the first intifada, in 1987, Peres, who was then foreign minister and vice
premier, proposed that Israel withdraw from Gaza. Sharon ridiculed the notion.
In an echo of statements the Right would later make in opposition to his own
proposal to pull out from Gaza, Sharon warned that leaving the Strip would only
lead to an increase in violence and would give the Palestinians the ability to
launch missiles at Sderot and Ashkelon.
The proper solution to the
outbreak of the first intifada was the creation of a Palestinian state in
Jordan, Sharon said. It was not a new idea for Sharon who in 1978 had stated,
“If the Palestinians want peace with us, the time has come for them to take over
the government in Jordan.”
Similarly, the UPI news agency had reported in
the 1970s that Sharon once told close friends that if he were prime minister he
would give King Hussein 24 hours to leave Amman so that it could become the
capital of a Palestinian state.
When Shamir in 1989 began calling for a
peace plan that would allow the Palestinians to democratically elect their
leaders, Sharon attacked him as well, claiming that such a move would mean only
one thing – a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria.
The power struggle
between the two men came to a head at the Likud Convention in February 1990, in
what became infamous as the “microphone” incident.
Sharon announced his
resignation from the government in protest over Shamir’s leadership. “Under your
government, Palestinian terror is raging in all of Israel,” he
When Shamir, in turn, addressed the crowd and asked who
supported him and his path, Sharon grabbed a second mike and out-shouted the
“Who is against eliminating terror?” he raged. In the
confusion of voices, it was unclear who the audience was backing in a chaotic
show of hands.
Having spent years attacking Shamir, Sharon nonetheless
worked to help him regain power by once again securing the support of religious
politicians after Peres toppled the National Unity government in a no-confidence
motion in March 1990.
Shamir did not replay Sharon’s kindness. He gave
him the post of housing and construction minister, rather than the Defense
Ministry or the Foreign Ministry that Sharon had desired.
It turned out
to be a fateful appointment at a fateful moment. Sharon, who believed that
immigration was vital to Israel’s future, took over the ministry just as an
unprecedented wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived in
To help house the new Israelis Sharon executed one of the largest
construction projects in the state’s history, building 144,000 apartments and
renovating another 22,000. He also threw the weight of his office behind
settlement activity in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. According to Bloom and
Hefez, Sharon built 40,000 apartments and placed 20,000 caravans in the
territories. Almost every time then-US secretary of state James Baker came to
Israel on a peacemaking mission, they wrote, a new settlement was
To help broaden the settlement population beyond those who
were ideologically motivated, Sharon also provided economic incentives to those
of lower means looking for a better lifestyle.
became foreign minister in 1998, Sharon attacked almost every peace initiative
between Israel and the Palestinians. He called the 1991 Madrid Conference, in
which Israel’s first bilateral talks were held with the Palestinians and the
Jordanians, “a conference of war and not of peace.”
Before Shamir left
for Madrid, Sharon called upon him to resign and announced his own plans to
challenge him for the party leadership. Shamir bested Sharon in that race, but
lost in the prime ministerial contest to Labor leader Rabin.
subsequent resignation from the party in 1992 didn’t clear an immediate path for
Sharon. His leadership aspirations were crushed by a new rival, Binyamin
Netanyahu, who had been a charismatic presence alongside Shamir in
Sensing that his chances for victory were slim, Sharon withdrew
from the 1993 leadership race. Netanyahu secured that post with 52% of the vote
over his other rivals, David Levy, Bennie Begin and Moshe Katsav.
Netanyahu stood in the limelight, Sharon sat briefly on the political sidelines.
Rabin helped keep him politically visible by preferring to brief Sharon, rather
than Netanyahu, on security and diplomatic matters. But their long-standing
relationship did not stop Sharon from attacking Rabin over the 1993 Oslo Accords
and the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.
Sharon now said he respected the
Jordanian monarchy and, in a landmark November 1994 op-ed in the Post, asserted that had the terms been different, he could have supported the
But he could not agree with the clause that gave “high priority
to the Jordanian historic role” in Jerusalem’s “Muslim holy shrines” during any
permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
didn’t vote for the peace agreement with Jordan, even though I really wanted to.
And I didn’t go to the Arava [peace signing] ceremony, even though I longed to,”
“I am in favor of peace agreements with all the Arab
countries, particularly Jordan. Jordan is the existing Palestinian state, and
there mustn’t be another. With it, and with it only, would I discuss the
Palestinian issue,” Sharon continued.
“I have no complaints against King
Hussein. He conducted the negotiations seriously, with royal protocol, like a
master of his own realm. But sitting opposite him were small-town functionaries,
whose fearful hearts desired one thing only: to get it all over with as quickly
as they could.”
The major sticking point for him was the clause about
Jerusalem, which he felt endangered Israel’s status in the city.
thing is totally unacceptable: granting the Kingdom of Jordan a formal role
vis-à-vis the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, in a political
“No nation in the world would have done such a thing. No sane
government would have dared contemplate such a step. Only those who hold nothing
sacred can behave this way.
And if nothing is sacred, we shall not go on
existing here.… Our generations has no right – and what, after all, is the span
of a single generation? – to deprive future generations of the Jewish people’s
Conceding rule over the Temple Mount is the beginning of
conceding control over Jerusalem,” Sharon concluded.
Oslo foe; Rabin
While Sharon was troubled over his inability to support the peace treaty
with Jordan, he unreservedly condemned the Oslo Accords, which returned Arafat
to the region and set out a path to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and
Sharon warned in an op-ed for the Post that the “Oslo agreement
contains the seeds of the next war.”
It was a mistake to believe that the
PLO could successfully combat Hamas, he wrote. “Whoever now accords legitimacy
to the PLO cannot later behave differently toward Hamas. Today they surrender to
the PLO , tomorrow to Hamas,” he wrote.
As Sharon continued to write
op-eds for the Post in the 1990s, he frequently voiced his opposition to a
Palestinian state, his hatred of Arafat and the importance of Judea and Samaria
to Israel from a historical and security perspective.
this murderer’s organization, the PLO , the government has committed an act of
By reviving Israel’s greatest enemy on the eve of its
disintegration and turning it into Israel’ shield against Hamas, the government
has added crime to folly.”
Sharon declared in one article, “Not that
there is no room for reconciliation with the Palestinians. We can live with
them. But there is no room for reconciliation with Arafat and the PLO
For Sharon, the mistaken Oslo track emphasized the need for Jewish
settlement to safeguard Israel’s presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. In another
Post op-ed, he called the settlers “the era’s true pioneers, who hold the last
line of defense against the danger of retreat to the 1948 lines.”
commanded hundreds of tanks in battle, I know what they can do. But security
isn’t only tanks and cannons. When a small child lives in the area, that is what
gives, his family motivation to defend him and the place where he lives. That
too is a component of power,” he wrote.
“If we are to believe what we’re
being told today, then perhaps we should put a tank where Kibbutz Manara is, or
an armored troop carrier instead of Moshav Margaliot.
Perhaps an infantry
squad instead of Eilon. Or a half-track instead of Nir Am. It would be far more
cost effective. And it would be nonsense.
“I implore the government:
Don’t raise your hand against the settlements. Don’t undermine their
The value of land was not just a security issue for
Although he was not a traditionally religious man, he was fully
aware that many of the places under dispute with the Palestinians were
biblically and historically the very fiber of the Jewish state.
to relinquish such territory, he said in a contentious Knesset session in 1995,
were not Jewish.
“This government,” he told the plenum, “hates everything
Sarid, who was then environment minister, shot back: “Those are
shocking, ugly words. A government of Israel democratically elected by hundreds
of thousands of Israeli citizens, hates all things Jewish? … MK Sharon, I want
to ask you, how are you Jewish? Because you take the name of the Jews and
Judaism in vain? Because you constantly say “Jews, Jews, Jews?” … We represent
many hundreds of thousands of Jews – more than you represent.”
his statements later in the week for the Post, Sharon wrote that “for me, the
Jewish cause transcends everything, Israel is the Jewish state, Jerusalem is
Jewish, and exclusively Jewish: Hebron is forever Jewish.
planning to hand over Beit El and Shiloh is against Jews and Judaism. Those who
gave official status to non-Jews on the Temple Mount are
Ergo Mr. Sarid and his friends are anti-Jewish, and I am a
To guarantee Jewish sovereignty in portions of the West Bank, he
proposed to Rabin that Israel annex portions of Judea and Samaria. He also
suggested that its Palestinian residents be given passports from, and to be
allowed to vote on affairs in their true state: Jordan.
Sharon pledged in
a Knesset speech that year that when the Likud returned to the government its
first goal would be to increase the number of Jews in Judea, Samaria and the
Gaza Strip to half a million.
“Then the danger of a Palestinian state ...
will no longer exist.”
Sharon didn’t just rely on verbal arguments to
combat Oslo. In 1995, Sharon – known for his large appetite – held a week-long
hunger strike in the Knesset’s Rose Garden to protest the accords.
even put aside his enmity toward Netanyahu to partner with him against Oslo and
Rabin. The two Likud leaders participated in rallies against Oslo, employing
harsh, anti-Rabin rhetoric as posters were shown of Rabin in a keffiyeh,
protesters burned photos of the prime minister and others, and brandished signs
reading “Rabin is a traitor. Rabin is a murderer.”
Sharon explained that
he opposed the description of Rabin as a traitor, deeming it “alien and
repulsive. The charge that an Israeli prime minister and defense minister is a
‘collaborator’ of a war criminal who heads a terrorist organization – especially
one whose declared goal is the elimination of Israel – is
It was hypocritical, however, for the Left to now cry foul
when it had used the same type of language against him following the Sabra and
Shatilla massacre, Sharon said. “I don’t understand the government ministers’
bitter tears, their complaints, their savage fury,” he asserted. “They, after
all, invented those techniques.
They introduced these norms into our
lives. They are the ones who demonstrated against the government a decade ago,
surrounded by placards bearing the slogans ‘Begin is a murder,’ ‘Sharon is a
murder,’ the government has blood on its hands.”
Sharon continued his
attacks on Oslo following Rabin’s death at the hands of a Jewish assassin who
opposed the process. But as time passed, Sharon would gradually come to paint
himself as a politician who, like Rabin, was struggling to find the road to
peace – without making specific reference to Rabin’s chosen course, to the Oslo
Accords or to his own vehement objection to those agreements.
to Bloom and Hefez, in speaking at the Rabin Center in 1997, Sharon foreshadowed
his willingness to make concessions, noting, “We all want peace, but it’s hard
to come to an agreement.… So we will all have to give up on something. Even
though Yitzhak Rabin isn’t with us, we want to continue in his path.”
the fifth anniversary of Rabin’s death in 2000, Sharon said before the Knesset,
“We all have to decide how to achieve a peace that we are bound to even though
we know that peace can be more painful than war. To achieve peace, as Yitzhak
Rabin understood, you have to make painful concessions and hard
We shouldn’t get used to accepting the current situation as
though it were a decree set in heaven.
Sharon said he had missed the
opportunity to speak with and seek advice on this from Rabin. “In his absence, I
feel that the weight of responsibility on our shoulders is heavier and greater,”
Following the assassination of Rabin in November 1995, Sharon
put all his energies into helping Netanyahu topple Labor’s acting prime minister
In so doing, he wanted to thwart the Oslo process and
secure a top ministerial appointment for himself.
He helped broker
agreements under which two minor parties that had splintered from the Likud
rejoined it: Tzomet under Rafael Eitan and Gesher under David Levy. He also
helped persuade Chabad leaders to support Netanyahu by warning their followers
that, under Peres, holy sites in Judea and Samaria would be handed over to the
His efforts paid off. Netanyahu narrowly won the May 1996
elections. But the victorious prime minister neither thanked Sharon nor offered
him a cabinet position. Only after Levy, the new foreign minister, intervened
was a ministry created especially for Sharon: that of National Infrastructure.
From there, Sharon continued overseeing development in the territories, but was
still denied a seat in the inner circle around Netanyahu that made security and
Frustrated and bitter, Sharon attacked Netanyahu
both for meeting with Yasser Arafat and for the Hebron Agreement of early 1997,
under which Israel agreed to leave 80 percent of the city. He also moved closer
to Peres. At one point the two men met secretly in Peres’s home to talk about
the possibility of a national unity government. Queried by reporters who heard
about the talks, Sharon joked that he had gone there because he liked Sonia
Peres’s cooking, according to Gadi Bloom and Nir Hefez in their
Even as he blasted Netanyahu for meeting with Arafat, Sharon
met at his Negev farm with Arafat’s deputy, Mahmoud Abbas. But he rejected an
offer by Abbas to set up a meeting with the Palestinian Authority
Sharon was finally brought into the heart of the government, as
foreign minister, in 1998, as Netanyahu moved to bolster right-wing support on
the eve of his departure to Washington for negotiations over what would become
the Wye Agreement.
Sharon arrived late at Wye River Plantation in
Maryland, having stopped to visit King Hussein, who was receiving chemotherapy
treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. While he praised Hussein, of whom he
said “there is no other leader in the Middle East with so much experience and so
many years in office,” Sharon’s dislike of Arafat was obvious throughout the Wye
He remained the only member of the delegation who refused to
shake Arafat’s hand.
Upon being introduced to him as “General Sharon”
rather than foreign minister, Arafat “stuck out his chest and saluted.” Sharon
ignored him and shook hands with everyone else, including Abbas and parliament
Speaker Ahmed Qurei. He did speak to Arafat during the negotiations themselves,
In spite of all his previous attacks on the Oslo process, Sharon
supported the agreement – under which Israel was to relinquish 13% of West Bank
territory – in the Knesset and the cabinet. According to Bloom and Hefez, he
told Abbas that “it wasn’t easy” for him to back the deal, “but the government
decided to do everything it could to pursue peace, and I’m supporting those
Nevertheless, in an exhortation that would resonate strongly
when he changed political course five years later, he returned from Wye, calling
on Israeli Jews to ”run” and “grab hills” in the territory so that no future
prime minister could relinquish that land.
Claiming the Palestinians were
failing to uphold their end of the Wye Agreement, Netanyahu did not implement
the accord. But his coalition was falling apart. He called new elections in late
spring of 1999 and lost to Labor’s leader, ex-chief of staff Ehud
Netanyahu immediately resigned the Likud leadership, and entrusted
it to Sharon, taking a “time out” from which he may have assumed he could return
to the party chairmanship when he felt ready. But having waited for the job for
two decades, Sharon would not relinquish it easily.
The Likud Central
Committee had voted Sharon their acting leader, in the formal race, he won an
overwhelming 53% of the vote to Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert’s 24% and ex-finance
minister Meir Sheetrit’s 22%.
At 71, and with his controversial record,
Sharon was seen by many as a caretaker leader. They were mistaken.
his first steps as Likud head was to seek to bring the party into Barak’s
government. But although Sharon as defense minister had promoted Barak to the
rank of major-general during the Lebanon War, over the objections of his chief
of staff, the two men did not share the same relationship that Sharon had
enjoyed with Peres and Rabin. And Barak felt he didn’t need the Likud in his
The tables soon turned. Barak’s government began to splinter
as he prepared to travel to Camp David for what would prove a fruitless two-week
effort in the summer of 2000 to hammer out a permanent peace accord with Arafat
as the Clinton presidency neared its end. Sharon sensed that elections might not
be far away and set about ousting Barak. “I and the Likud,” he declared, “do not
want to participate in the government.
We want to overturn the
An indication that he might have the necessary backing came
that August when he helped gather enough votes to prevent Peres’s election (by
the 120 Knesset members) as Israel’s president. The job went to the Likud
candidate, Moshe Katsav, 63-67.
On the morning of September 28, 2000,
asserting the Jewish right to visit the holiest site in Judaism, which had been
under Israeli sovereignty since the 1967 war, Sharon came to the Temple
His walk on the Mount became the Palestinian pretext for what was
to develop into the second intifada, an unprecedented onslaught of suicide
bombings and other terror attacks to which Israel ultimately responded by
reentering West Bank cities it had previously relinquished, carrying out
thousands of arrests, killing alleged terror kingpins in targeted strikes and
embarking on the construction of the West Bank security barrier.
began that first Thursday morning. Just after Sharon, fellow MKs and their
extensive security contingent had left, Palestinians began throwing stones,
chairs, bottles and other objects at the police who had acted as a buffer
between the two sides.
“The Temple Mount is still under Israeli
sovereignty and every Jewish person has the right to visit Judaism’s holiest
site,” Sharon said immediately after the hour-long visit, insisting that he and
come with a message of peace. As he spoke, a border policeman, who was hit in
the head with a rocket, was being carried off on a stretcher to
Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem.
In an op-ed he wrote for the
Post on October 3, Sharon asserted, “We have ample evidence today that the
violent riots and armed confrontations with Israeli police and soldiers, which
broke out last Thursday on the Temple Mount during my visit there, were part of
a premeditated campaign organized and initiated by the Palestinian
“I visited the Temple Mount with members of the Likud faction
in the Knesset, as I have done many times before, to inspect and ascertain that
freedom of worship and free access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is
sovereign Israeli territory, is ensured to everyone –Christians, Muslims, and
Jews in particular since it is and has been for over 3,000 years the site of our
Not everyone was persuaded that Sharon’s motivation in
visiting had been constructive; however, Prof.
David Newman from
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev wrote in a Post op-ed that “if we needed
reminding just who Sharon is, then his visit to the Temple Mount served as a
stark reminder. It is a stain on this country’s political process that such a
man can still be so close to the highest echelons of government… The idea that
such a man could contest the position of prime minister at the next election is
just too awful to imagine.
“It is time for Sharon to realize that he has
brought more harm and damage than benefit during his long career,” Newman wrote.
“It is time for him to retire to his Negev farm and allow [others], including
rightwing politicians with similar views to his but who have not acted in such
an irresponsible manner, to take his place.”
Barak’s coalition had
collapsed amid the failure of Camp David, and Israel was in election mode
But November polls reflected Sharon’s lack of polarity outside the
Likud, showing that Netanyahu, still in his time-out phase, would beat Barak but
Sharon would not. Yet Netanyahu was prevented from an immediate comeback bid
because he was not a sitting Knesset member.
The violence unleashed in
the wake of Sharon’s Temple Mount visit gradually changed public opinion. As
Barak continued trying to reach an agreement with the PA leadership, Sharon,
asserting that only he could restore security, overtook him in the
Settlers campaigned in his favor, warning that only a Sharon
victory could prevent the transfer of 97% of the territories to the
Palestinians. Counter leaflets were distributed in the form of mock draft
notices, warning that those would be real if Sharon were in power.
highlighting his security credentials, Sharon’s campaign also tried to portray
him as a grandfatherly peacemaker. He spoke of his son Gilad’s twins, born
toward the campaign’s end. “I was presented with two new grandchildren. And I
ask myself, what kind of Israel will they grow up in?” Sharon told the
On February 6, in what the Post called “a stunning reversal of
political fortunes,” the man who had long been eulogized by just about everyone
in Israeli politics, became the country’s 11th prime minister, capturing 59.5%
of the vote, compared to Barak’s 40.5%.
“Citizens of Israel: the
government under my leadership will act to restore security to the citizens of
Israel and to achieve genuine peace and stability in the area,” he told those
who gathered to cheer for him at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
“I know that
peace requires painful compromise on the part of both sides,” he said, in a
harbinger of what was to come.
Making note of the fact that he had
overcome poor odds to reach the premiership, he relayed the words US president
George W. Bush had just told him in a congratulatory phone call. Bush, he said,
recalled a helicopter trip over the West Bank the two took together in 1998 when
Bush visited Israel with a delegation of US governors.
“No one believed
then,” Bush said, “that I would be president and you would be prime minister.
But as things turned out, despite the fact that no one believed us, I have been
elected president and you have been elected prime minister.”
recalled with sadness the person in his life who had most believed in him, but
whose recent death from cancer had robbed her of this moment. “Since my youth, I
have devoted myself entirely to the country, to consolidating and building in
security. In all of my positions, at all times, whether difficult or joyful, I
was accompanied by my dear late wife, Lily, who supported me wholeheartedly,” he
said. “At this moment, when the Israeli people have expressed their confidence
in me to lead the country in the coming years, I miss her.”
wedding in 1963, Lily had indeed been Sharon’s most trusted adviser and
supporter. Bloom and Hefez, in The Shepherd, named the key “forum of four”
behind his defiant rise – Ariel, Lily and their two sons, Omri and
According to biographer Uzi Benziman, even while in the army
Sharon called Lily several times a day. On the morning after he crossed the Suez
Canal during the Yom Kippur War, he telephoned her excitedly to detail the
mission’s success. “Can you hear me, Lily? Is this Lily?” he asked. It was a
According to Uri Dan, it was Lily who encouraged Sharon to
buy the farm that became their haven. And it was Lily who pushed him
relentlessly over political hurdles. “She accompanied him on his trips to Judea
and Samaria when he served as minister of agriculture and promoted Jewish
settlement there,” Dan also wrote in an article for the Post.
interview with Yediot Aharonot’s weekend magazine 7 Days around the time of her
death, Sharon called Lily his “main supporter.”
He continued, “I
especially need her when I’m fighting, I need to see her sitting there in the
first row and she knows it. No matter what she was doing she always found the
time to accompany me. I don’t think that there was an instance where she didn’t
come with me to a television appearance or a fight in the Knesset.
she could no longer come with me, she would wait for me at home, awake and
He, in turn, stayed by her side during her stays in the
hospital and went with her on her medical visits to the United
Writing in the Post, Dan described how Sharon went to LIly’s
bedside in the hospital every day and would “sit beside her in the long nights,
when she suffered such pain. I sometimes found him sitting there in an armchair
next to her bed, after she had fallen asleep, with his head dropping,
When she died in 2000, he buried her on a hill on their farm. At
her funeral, he said, “I shall miss many things. I shall miss your eyes, that I
always looked for, even amongst a crowd of thousands. Those encouraging eyes.
Until today, I haven’t done without you. Now it’s all without you. It won’t be
easy, but I’ll continue on the path we both believed in.”
things I have endured,” Sharon told 7 Days during the interview, “have been in
my personal life, not in my political one.”
Prime minister at last
Sharon’s first day as prime minister began on a somber note on February 7, 2001,
with a visit to his wife’s grave.
He was then driven to the Western Wall.
As his motorcade approached, the sun broke through the clouds, the crowd of
onlookers cheered, and a shofar rang out. The familiar chant, “Here he comes,
the next prime minister of Israel,” was sung, now rendered truthful.
Sharon donned a kippa, put his hand on the ancient stone
wall – and prayed.
He entered office amidst left-wing skepticism and
fear. They worried he would kill whatever fragile hopes for peace still
remained. The optimistic right wing believed there was finally a politician in
power who would defend Israel by dealing harshly with the Palestinians while
supporting Jews settling the territories.
For many in Israel who had not
paid close attention to his skillful political maneuvers and coalition building,
Sharon was also a general, coming into power at a moment of extreme national
vulnerability from terrorism.
Others assumed him too old to truly be a
political force and regarded him more as a “caretaker” for the
On March 7, Sharon cemented his place at the top with a bang,
having pulled together, what at the time was the largest coalition in the
nation’s history, with seven parties. Likud along with Labor, Shas, Yisrael
Beytenu, the National Union, Yisrael B’Aliya, Am Ehad and Dalia Rabin Pelosoff’s
one woman New Way faction gave Sharon the support of 73 MKs.
overflowing cabinet of 26 ministers were an unprecedented three women. He also
appointed the first Druse minister-without-portfolio, Sallah Tarif. In his
national unity government there were leftists, including Shimon Peres as foreign
minister, and ultra-rightists, such as Rehavam Ze’evi, as tourism
Even before the election, Sharon had presented himself as a
more tempered individual. Addressing foreign journalists in January 2001, he
said, “In a few weeks I will be 73…. There is only one more thing I want to
achieve, a political agreement that will bring peace with the Palestinians and
the Arab world. That is the last thing that I want to do in my life and then I
can return to the farm, to ride horses and to see the herd,” Bloom and Hefez
He strove to live up to that calmer image. When the Post
visited him on his farm in September 2001, just a week after the terror attacks
on the World Trade Center in New York City, reporters found a serene
They described how security guards walked “among guinea fowl,
peacocks and lambs. Inside, guests are met by the sound of classical music
coming from the stereo.
A pillow that reads ‘What a mensch’ sits on one
of the couches. Soft-looking paintings hang on the wall.
“The world this
week seemed to hover on the brink of hell, but Sharon – at least – conducted
business over the weekend from pastoral, downright soothing
Sharon was asked if he could still be viewed as “extreme”
or if he was a transformed Ariel Sharon, a more restrained one who “takes
responsibilities on his shoulders.”
He replied, “The answer is somewhere
in the middle.
I matured a bit, part of the country matured a bit and
perhaps the eyes of the country also opened up a bit.”
A second election
At the opening of the 2002 fall Knesset session, Sharon noted with satisfaction
that his coalition was still alive in spite of his opponent’s earlier
“Some people doubted I could keep this national unity
government together for a year and a half,” he said.
His optimism was
short-lived. By the end of October, Sharon sought early elections, as his
government dropped to 55 mandates, after Labor resigned in protest over the
state budget. It chastised Sharon for prioritizing funding for West Bank
settlements over impoverished areas of the periphery.
was one of his chief political rivals, Sharon offered him the vacant foreign
minister post in his transition government. Some warned him that the move
empowered Netanyahu. In reality, it forced Netanyahu to soften his attacks on
Sharon and hampered Netanyahu’s challenge to Sharon’s Likud leadership. Later
the same month, Netanyahu lost his bid to oust Sharon by a margin of
Sharon called elections for March 2003. In his lack-luster campaign
against Sharon, Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna, the ex-Haifa mayor who had
succeeded Ehud Barak, tried to focus on corruption allegations surrounding the
prime minister’s election funding, attacking him as the “godfather” of a
To break the deadlock with the Palestinians, Mitzna
called for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and isolated West Bank settlements.
Sharon derided the notion and pledged to protect Gaza, asserting the importance
of even the smallest and most isolated of settlements, Gaza’s Netzarim. “The
fate of Netzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv,” he declared.
defeated Mitzna in the elections, doubling the Likud’s mandates from 19 to 38.
One of the new Likud arrivals was his son Omri. He then gained two more seats by
bringing Natan Sharansky’s much-reduced Yisrael B’Aliya into the party. The
victory made him the first sitting prime minister in 20 years elected to
consecutive terms of office.
He invited Mitzna to join him in a national
unity government. The Labor leader refused and Sharon turned to the Right. He
built a coalition with the National Union, the National Religious Party and
Shinui for a total of 68 Knesset members.
Spurning Sharon’s advances,
Mitzna declared, “There isn’t enough common ground between Labor and Likud for
an opening for discussions.” Ironically, given what was to follow, he cited
Sharon’s commitment to maintain isolated Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria
and the Gaza Strip for their strategic value as proof of the prime minister’s
Up and down; West Bank outposts
As a right-wing
minister, Sharon had urged proponents of Greater Israel to “grab the hills” of
Judea and Samaria – a statement which his followers viewed as support for the
construction of unauthorized new communities, otherwise known as
When Sharon became prime minister in 2001 there were 45 such
outposts. During his time in office, the number of outposts grew to over 100, as
governmental ministries continued, in some cases, to issue initial approval and
funding for the fledgling Jewish communities that lacked authorization and while
the IDF in other instances turned a blind eye to the blossoming of caravans on
But as prime minister, he sent the IDF to remove some of
them. His early years in office were marked by intermittent clashes between
settlers and the security forces over outpost demolitions.
Among the more
publicized outpost battles was the evacuation of Gilad Farm in 2002, in which
dozens were wounded. In the majority of cases, the outposts, including Gilad
Farm, were quickly reestablished once the army had gone.
At the June 2003
Aqaba Summit, Sharon promised the international community he would remove
To quantify the problem, he commissioned former state prosecutor
Talia Sasson to compile the first government report, released in March 2005, on
The document declared them illegal and issued a scathing
critique against the government offices and officials who colluded in such
activity. As a result of the report, the government then ordered the removal of
26 outposts, mostly built after Sharon took office in March 2001. But his
disengagement plan diverted attention away from the outpost issue, and no action
The security barrier
Most of Sharon’s tenure was marked by an
unprecedented wave of suicide bombings, that targeted Israeli civilians as they
rode city buses, sat in cafes or shopped in malls, with over 1,000 fatalities.
Some of the explosions rocked the prime minister’s official residence on Gaza
Street, with the bombing of Cafe Moment in 2002, across the street, and the
bombing of a No. 19 bus in 2004 on the same street, just meters away from the
But international sympathy toward the victims quickly turned
to condemnation when Sharon took measures to halt the terrorism and feed growing
international impatience with Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank. In
April 2002, the IDF in Operation Defensive Shield routed out terrorists in the
Jenin refugee camp, encircled the Mukata in Ramallah, and briefly regained
military control of large Palestinian cities.
Sharon was also persuaded
of the necessity to stop the easy passage of terrorists from Palestinians cities
to Israeli ones, by erecting a security barrier. It was an idea initially
hatched by the Left, but which he had opposed out of fear that it would be seen
as Israel’s new border, given that he believed that sections of it must be built
in the West Bank to protect Israeli settlements.
The barrier “is not a
border, nor will it be,” Sharon said until his last days in office, even as his
advisers and other political allies increasingly argued otherwise.
within two years after construction of the barrier began, there was a drastic
decline in suicide bombings.
But in spite of its apparent success, the
barrier was a public-relations disaster for Israel and earned the Palestinians
one of their first major victories in its diplomatic war against the Jewish
The Palestinians, through the United Nations, brought the matter
before the International Court of Justice at The Hague in February 2004. That
June, after hearings boycotted by Israel, the ICJ issued an advisory opinion
that any section of the barrier built over the 1967 lines amounted to “de facto
annexation” of the territory and was illegal.
As part of its advisory
opinion the ICJ also weighed in on the legal status of the territories,
declaring that Judea and Samaria, as well as east Jerusalem, were “occupied
territories” in which “Israel has the status of occupying power.”
court ruled that as a result the Fourth Geneva Convention was applicable
By July, the UN General Assembly had passed a resolution that
called on Israel to dismantle its security barrier in the “occupied territories”
and to pay reparations to the Palestinians. The declaration, like the advisory
opinion, was non-binding, but added more fuel to Israel’s opponents in the court
of public opinion.
Support for a Palestinian state
Sharon entered office
at the helm of a party with a platform that opposed the creation of a
Palestinian state. With his reputation as the spiritual father of the settlement
movement, few expected him to deviate from that platform and even fewer paid
attention when he did.
One of the first clear signs that Sharon was
shifting back toward the more centrist viewpoint he had held three decades
earlier was a speech he gave in support of a Palestinian state at a ceremony for
teachers at Latrun on September 23, 2001, before he became prime
“The State of Israel wants to give [the Palestinians] what no
one offered them in the past – the possibility to establish a state,” Sharon
Members of his own party immediately attacked him. “In light of
the events of the last year the dream of a Palestinian state should be distanced
and the murderers should not be given a prize,” Likud MK Nomi Blumenthal
Concerned by Sharon’s new tune, which he conveyed to international
leaders once taking office, Likud politicians led by Netanyahu brought the issue
of a Palestinian state to a vote at a central committee meeting held on May 12,
2002. Over Sharon’s opposition, Netanyahu successfully urged the party not to
“give sanctuary to the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the
Sharon lost the vote, but did not seem unduly troubled by the
defeat. The next day he told the Likud faction in the Knesset that he would not
let the central committee influence his ideas.
“I respect the central
committee, but the responsibility for making decisions in this government is on
Two-thirds of the nation elected me to make decisions and I decided,
as I promised before the election, to bring security and peace. I intend to keep
what I promised.
No one can divert me from this path, especially for
narrow personal political considerations.”
Then-US secretary of state
Colin Powell told reporters at the time that Sharon had called him and
“reaffirmed to me that he remains committed to moving forward to achieve that
vision that I think most people have of a Palestinian state.”
the Post in a September 2002 interview that “you have to see the wider picture.
You have to understand that more than three million Palestinians live here –
[even] without the million Israeli Arabs. We don’t want to return and sit
forever in Jenin or Nablus or Ramallah.”
Even while battling a challenge
from Netanyahu for the party leadership in November 2002, he told Channel 2 that
a Palestinian state was essentially an established fact.
“When you look,
you see that all the governmental structure already exists. The Palestinians
have ministers, they have a cabinet, and they have a president.
have 104 states acknowledging their right to statehood, even before they declare
Sharon defeated Netanyahu in that Likud leadership primary, and
continued to make such comments at the Herzliya conference in December 2002 and
on the campaign trail for the general election he had called for January
Safely reelected, he had made support of a future Palestinian state
in Judea and Samaria part of his government’s official policy when in May 2003
he led the cabinet to endorse with reservations US president George W. Bush’s
road-map peace framework, with its calls for a two-state solution as well as a
freeze in settlement construction.
For two hours during a Likud faction
meeting that followed, his party’s MKs shouted and argued that he had betrayed
them. Michael Ratzon called the road map a “document from hell.” David Levy
said, “You have given up everything. There is no difference now between the
Likud and the Left.”
Sharon responded only at the meeting’s end. He made
headlines around the world, when he used the left wing’s language, “occupation,”
to refer to Israel’s military control of Palestinian areas. “You might not love
that word occupation, but that is what it is,” said Sharon, adding that it was a
“terrible thing,” that was “not right” and could not continue
David Kimche, president of the Israeli Council on Foreign
Relations, called it a pivotal moment. “The fact that he did use that word
created a political earthquake for the right wing because that one word makes
all the difference,” Kimche told the Post. “The right wing of this country never
admitted this was an occupation because you cannot be an occupying power on land
that belongs to you. This negates that whole ideology.”
If there was any
lingering doubt that accepting the road map meant his government’s approval of
an eventual Palestinian state, Sharon erased it at the Aqaba Summit in June 2003
when he sad, “A democratic Palestinian state, fully at peace with Israel, will
promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish
He also spoke of a viable Palestinian state – and accepted one of
the Palestinian conditions for that state – when he said that “Israel
understands the importance of territorial contiguity in the West Bank for a
viable Palestinian state.”
To buy in Beit El?
When Sharon spoke of a
Palestinian state, he no longer meant Jordan. He now cast his eyes on the West
Bank and began to concede the necessity of territorial withdrawal.
back in 1976 Sharon had declared that “for a durable peace, I am willing to make
Now, as prime minister, in a September 2002
interview with the Post, he spoke again of a readiness for “painful concessions”
with regard to land in the West Bank. But he was careful to specify that areas
of importance for reasons of strategy and Jewish heritage, should be under
At times, he seemed to indicate that for peace, he
would cede even that territory. The following April, Sharon told Haaretz that “I
know that we will have to part from some of Bethlehem, Shiloh and Beit El. There
will be a parting from places that are connected to the whole course of our
history. As a Jew, this agonizes me. But I have decided to make every
effort to reach a settlement. The national necessity to reach a
settlement is overcoming my feelings.”
Later that year, asked by the Post
if he would recommend that people buy property in Beit El and Shiloh, he
answered, “I didn’t deal there in real estate. I dealt with
“But seriously,” pushed a reporter, “What would you say to
young couples considering whether they should buy in those areas?” Sharon
responded, “If you ask me whether in Shiloh and Beit El there will not be Jews –
no Jews will live there.”
Similarly, at a Likud faction meeting, asked by
MK Yehiel Hazan whether his grandchildren should build in Ariel, the response
was, “They can build there.”
After he had unveiled his disengagement
initiative in late 2003, and spoken of the imperative to “relocate” unspecified
West Bank settlements, he told the Post that “I don’t see the possibility of
Jews not living in Shiloh or Beit El, or not controlling Rachel’s Tomb or living
in Hebron. I don’t see that possibility.”
Even in 2005, he told a Post
reporter not to “sell that apartment in Ma’aleh Adumim.” And in that same
interview, Sharon also reaffirmed his belief that “Jews will always live in
Hebron. Which people in the world have a monument like the Cave of Machpela? Not
one. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are buried
No partner in Arafat
While Sharon was now willing to recognize
the right of the Palestinians to a future state and to start the process of
moving toward a two-state solution, he lacked a partner. As foreign minister he
refused to shake Arafat’s hand and as prime minister he was unwilling to accept
Arafat as a negotiating partner.
“Arafat is the greatest obstacle to
peace and stability in the Middle East,” he had declared in December 2001, and
he never shifted. “We have seen this in the past, are seeing it in the present,
and will, unfortunately, probably continue to see this in the future. But Arafat
will not fool this government. This time, Arafat will not succeed in fooling
Sharon had bested Arafat once, in 1982, as defense minister when the
IDF attack on Lebanon forced the Palestinian leader to leave Beirut for Tunis.
This time around, Sharon led a political campaign to transform Arafat from Nobel
Prize winner into political pariah.
Following the September 11 terrorist
attacks, Sharon compared Arafat to Osama bin Laden. He passed along information
to Bush and other world leaders, documenting Arafat’s direct link to Palestinian
terror organizations and actions.
Then, in reaction to the suicide
bombing in the Park Hotel in Netanyahu that killed 30 guests at the Passover
Seder in 2002, Sharon sent the IDF to lay siege to Arafat’s headquarters in
Arafat told several Arab leaders Sharon was “determined” to
kill him. But Sharon told the Post in 2002 that he had promised the US he would
not harm Arafat.
Instead, he said, “we took down the buildings in the
compound and left him in a little hovel. We took them down until we got to the
point where any further action was liable to cause the structure he is in to
fall on top of him.”
Sharon himself as prime minister never met with
Arafat , although he did dispatch his son Omri and Shimon Peres to speak with
him. When it later became Israel’s policy not to hold meetings with him on any
level, the US pressured Arafat to provide another leader that Israel would talk
to. Arafat appointed his second- in-command Abbas to the newly created post of
prime minister, when Abbas resigned.
Ahmed Qurei, Speaker of the
Palestinian Legislative Council, replaced him. Arafat, in the meantime, remained
imprisoned in his Ramallah headquarters until he became deathly ill and was
flown to a Paris succeeded him as PA chairman.
Sharon denied Arafat the Jerusalem burial
he had sought. Arafat’s body, instead, lies in a in a mausoleum, at the outer
edge of the Ramallah compound where Sharon had kept him confined in his last
Flirting with the law
On the morning before his stroke on January
4, Sharon woke up to one set of newspaper headlines declaring he was the most
popular politician in Israel and a second set alleging he was corrupt and had
received millions of dollars in bribes.
To be simultaneously pilloried
and applauded was nothing new for Sharon, who had spent his political career
dodging corruption charges. Already in 1977, an ad hoc committee had ruled that
as agriculture minister it was a conflict of interest for Sharon to own a
Sharon, in response, leased it to a friend, but still endured
allegations that he made decisions as a minister that benefited the
Similarly, in 1979, he was chastised for spending state funds to
build a floodlit security fence around his farm even though he did so at the
advice of the security forces.
He also dodged allegations of cronyism and
In 1999, Sharon was cleared of charges that he bribed
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avigdor Ben-Gal to change his testimony regarding Sharon’s
conduct during the Lebanon war. Ben-Gal had initially alleged that Sharon and
Eitan, then chief of staff, had a secret plan to enter Beirut that had not been
approved by the government.
But when asked to testify to that in court
during Sharon’s lawsuit against Haaretz, Ben-Gal said his earlier comments were
“nonsense and malicious and I made a terrible mistake.”
statements were seen as suspect because, a few weeks prior to his court
appearance, he had gone with Sharon to Russia, where they talked with the
Russians about the possibility of importing natural gas – a project in which
Ben-Gal was interested as a private businessman.
The police wanted to
indict Sharon and Ben-Gal, but attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein in 1999
closed the case while making it clear that he felt their conduct in the affair
As prime minister, Sharon’s time in office was marked by
three major allegations of corruption: the Greek Island Affair, the Cyril Kern
Affair and the Annex Affair.
The Greek island
In a separate matter, in
June 2004, Mazuz closed the Greek Island file against Sharon and his son Gilad,
in which Sharon was suspected of helping businessman David Appel promote a
tourism development scheme on an island near Athens. In return, Appel allegedly
promised Sharon political support in the Likud primaries, both in February
1999’s elections for the Knesset slate and in December 1999’s leadership
Furthermore, Appel allegedly hired Gilad in March 1999 to help him
implement the Greek Island project and paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars
for the sole purpose of harnessing his father’s help. Mazuz pointed out that
Appel did not pay Gilad any money for his work until November 1999, when his
father was no longer in the government. Overall, Mazuz came to the conclusion
that Appel hired Gilad because he genuinely believed he was a good
Those January headlines related to a matter known as
the Cyril Kern Affair, in which Gilad and Omri allegedly received a $1.5 million
loan from a family friend, South Africa-based businessman Cyril Kern, in
The money was used as collateral for a loan to repay the millions
of shekels in illegal contributions by Annex Research, Inc. to Sharon’s 1999
primary campaign for Likud chairman.
Kern, who was a close friend of
Sharon, said he never gave any money directly to the prime minister, but only to
Gilad. It could not therefore be considered a bribe, he said.
recent charge in the case was publicized on January 4, 2006, when police
announced they had collected evidence indicating that Sharon allegedly received
$3m. from Austrian businessmen Martin and James Schlaff from an Austrian bank
account held by Kern. Police suspected that the money may have been given as a
bribe to Sharon to promote the Schlaff brothers’ business interests in Israel,
such as the Jericho casino.
Police further alleged that part of the money
was used by Sharon to repay the 1999 illegal campaign contributions. Sharon’s
associates denied the reports, expressing confidence that Sharon’s innocence
would be proven over time.
Kern told the Post that the money he had
transferred to Sharon was not provided by Schlaff nor was it a bribe to promote
Schlaff’s interests in Israel. Schlaff also rejected the accusations. The case
was closed by 2013 without convictions against Omri or Gilad.
In February 2005, attorney-general Menahem Mazuz closed the “Annex
affair” investigations against Sharon and his adviser Dov Weisglass, which also
involved alleged illegal campaign financing relating to the 1999 Likud
Mazuz wrote, “There is not enough evidence to prove that Sharon
was aware of the secret funding.” He added: “Closing a criminal file because of
a lack of sufficient evidence does not constitute a ‘clean bill of health’ for
his actions as a public figure.”
There was, however, evidence pointing to
As his father’s campaign manager, Omri was said to have
established a secret channel of funding through a fictitious company called
Annex Research established by Weisglass in March 1999.
Through a bank
account the company received $1,484,950 from three US-based organizations: the
Center for National Studies and International Relationships, the American Israel
Research Friendship Foundation and The College for National Studies. In
addition, the College for National Studies paid $300,000 directly to suppliers
and service providers for Sharon’s campaign. Another Israeli company, the Center
for Security and Peace, paid out NIS 47,876 to another Sharon campaign service
Sharon had appointed Zvi Lieber to conduct the official
financing of the campaign. While Lieber ran the official campaign within the
bounds of the law, Omri allegedly received open, signed checks from his friend
Annex head Gabriel Manor, which he used to pay suppliers and service
During police questioning, Omri said he had used the money for
the Likud primary race. Omri also told police he had not let his father know
anything about the secret funding, to the extent that he even allowed his father
to sign an affidavit stating that all of the money received and spent in the
campaign was listed in the financial statement drawn up by Lieber.
the police asked him why Omri had let his father sign a document that he, Omri,
knew was false, he replied, “I wanted to see my father win, so I did what I
Following his January 2006 resignation from the Knesset, Omri was
convicted of violating the Political Party Law in February that year for his
role in the Annex affair and given a nine-month jail sentence, of which he
served five and a NIS 300,000 fine.
Omri said that “the year 1999, which
this case deals with, was one of the hardest in my life and the life of my
family. It was the year my mother was discovered to have cancer and I found
myself, without any previous political experience or any connection to public
life, trying to help my father and his views, which I supported.
to give him the support my mother had given him all those years and could not
give him any more.”
“In those years, my father’s political circumstances
were worse than ever, but I, with complete faith in him and in the knowledge
that his way and his leadership were right and appropriate for Israel, took upon
myself the mission of trying to bring him to victory in the primaries and
afterwards, in the general election. I have an enormous amount of love for my
father; I did then and I do now. My desire to help and support my father and his
policies was very strong. I made mistakes along the way, serious mistakes, and
I’m sorry about that.…”
Out of Gaza
At the start of December 2003, the seeming
absence of a clear formal Israeli government initiative to counter terror and
encourage diplomacy was highlighted by a new grassroots project, the Geneva
Initiative. Created by former justice minister and Meretz leader Yossi Beilin
and former PA cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, it purported to offer a draft
peace treaty and thus demonstrate the viability of an Israeli-Palestinian
partnership where Sharon denied one was possible.
Under those two men, a
group of Israeli politicians and academics drafted an information agreement
ostensibly settling all outstanding issues of dispute between Israel and the
Palestinians, which was unveiled with much media hype at a ceremony in
But their initiative which captured the international spotlight,
was sidelined by the end of the month by Sharon, who seized the limelight with a
bold plan to restore Israel’s international standing and move the peace process
forward, without actually negotiating with the Palestinians at all.
the annual Herzliya security conference, Sharon startled his supporters and
opponents by announcing a unilateral territorial withdrawal plan.
said there was no room for negotiations with the Palestinians so long as they
disregarded the basic tenet of the road map, nor was he interested in waiting
indefinitely for them to keep to their end of the bargain.
In the absence
of a partner, he said, Israel was ready if necessary to disengage unilaterally
from areas “which will not be included in the territory of the State of Israel
in the framework of any possible future permanent agreement.”
specifying the contours of the planned withdrawal and without actually
mentioning the Gaza Strip at all, the prime minister spoke of reducing the
friction between the Israeli and Palestinian populations and making access to
Israel more difficult for terrorists, by redeploying behind what he called “more
efficient security lines.”
By the following February, Sharon had filled
in some of the details of his disengagement plan. All of the 21 Gaza settlements
were to be dismantled and the entire IDF deployment withdrawn, as Israel left
the Strip altogether.
Four small isolated settlements in northern Samaria
would also be dismantled.
Settlers were loath to believe that the man who
had helped build their communities would now turn around and destroy
National Union MK Zvi Hendel claimed that Sharon himself “doesn’t
believe one word” of the purported security and demographic justification for
the drastic change of course, and claimed that the prime minister was trying to
divert attention from the corruption allegations against him.
the investigation [of Sharon’s alleged misdeeds], the deeper the uprooting of
settlements,” charged Hendel bitterly.
To his critics, Sharon often said
that sitting in the prime minister’s saet had changed his
“What you see from here you do not see from there.”
pledge from Bush
In advance of what promised to be a stiff political fight to
gain approval for the plan, Sharon in April flew to Washington, where he sought
and received support from president George Bush, in both in a speech he made and
in a letter he provided to Sharon.
Bush called the plan “historic” and
“courageous.” Sharon returned to Israel with the understanding that in exchange
for the evacuation of 25 settlements, Israel would not be required to withdraw
to the pre-1967 lines and that the future state of Palestine would absorb the
In a 2004 interview with the Post Sharon talked
about the significance of the assurances he had received from Bush during that
meeting. “This was the first time we heard that the Palestinian refugees can’t
return to Israel, only to a Palestinian state when it emerges,” Sharon
Bush had assured him of America’s abiding support for an Israel
with defensible borders and that the roadmap process would move forward only if
and when the Palestinian leadership dismantled the terror groups, Sharon said.
He added that Bush also clearly told him in the letter “that it is impossible to
ignore new realities on the ground” in the West Bank – a stance that Sharon
interpreted as American support for the eventual Israeli annexation of the large
settlement blocs in a negotiated accord.
But even Bush’s backing did not
help Sharon persuade his own Likud party members of the value of
In a May referendum vote that he had himself reluctantly
initiated and agreed to be bound by, Likud members voted 64% to 36% against the
Sharon essentially ignored the party vote, though purporting to
modify the plan to assuage Likud objections.
In essence, he now argued
that the wider good of the country superseded partisan interests.
are difficult days before us and we will have to make tough decisions. One thing
is clear to me. The public did not elect me to sit and do nothing for four
years. I was elected to restore the quiet, the security and the peace that the
people deserve. I intend to continue to lead the State of Israel according to
the best of my knowledge, my conscience and my obligation to the public,” Sharon
Had he failed to come up with a solution on his own, he added, a
much less favorable one would have been imposed on Israel.
predictions of his critics, who were already eulogizing his government and his
international reputation and defying a group of so-called “Likud rebels” led by
MK Uzi Landau, Sharon pushed the plan through both the cabinet in June 2004 and
the Knesset that October. In the process, he fired the National Union and lost
the National Religious Party as coalition partners. When Shinui quit over the
budget, Sharon turned once more to a national unity government with Labor and
United Torah Judaism in December 2004.
Disengagement was an immensely
complex operation – forcing thousands of Jews to leave their homes and bringing
them out in the midst of a terror war. The settler leadership held a relentless
series of protests and rallies to try and thwart the pullout and force a
rethink, to no avail. There were fears of a mass refusal of soldiers to carry
out orders to evacuate the settlers, and some posted doomsday scenarios of
Jew-against-Jew violence, bloodshed, even civil war.
proceeded more smoothly and peacefully than most had believed possible. Settlers
and their supporters confined their opposition overwhelmingly to non-violent
protest. Soldiers and police pried the evacuees out of settlement synagogues and
homes, sometimes with tears and a comforting hand and other times with
Respecting the settlers
Facing accusations that he had betrayed
their trust, Sharon told the Post in interviews in both 2004 and 2005 that he
had the highest amount of respect for the Gaza settlers and professed empathy
for the plight in which they now found themselves. “We must understand that we
are talking about exceptional people who are going through a major upheaval.
There are places [in the Gaza settlements] where the third generation is living
It was for this reason, he said, that he asked for disengagement
to be carried out with “as much appreciation, empathy and amicability as
In April 2005, he told the Post that he still believed in the
importance of the settlement movement, and that it was dangerous to characterize
the settlement enterprise as a “waste… now, when I speak to [the settlers], I
say, ‘I don’t think that these things were in vain. People say that you didn’t
achieve anything?’ I say, you achieved a great deal.’ I say to them, “We had a
dream and the dream was not realized in full. But there have been very great
“If not for them, would we today be able to pray in the
Cave of Machpela? Would we be in Beit Hadassah, Tel Rumeida? Would we be able to
stand in the Karaite cemetery that is 1,000 years old, to stand in the Sephardi
cemetery where you touch stones that are 700 years old and where the victims of
the 1929 [massacre of Hebron Jews] are buried? Would we be there? No.
speak to the leaders of Yesha [the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea,
Samaria and the Gaza Strip] and I tell them, You have an immense responsibility.
If you come along all the time and say, ‘This is all disaster and everything is
being torn away and it has all been in vain,’ then you are canceling yourselves
Sharon said it was a shift over time in circumstances and not a
shift in his own views that caused him to give up on Gaza. Settlers there could
point to homes he had built and hothouses he helped design. They had stories of
how he would come down on Fridays to check on the ongoing work there. Said
Sharon, “I haven’t changed. But lots of things changed here and it may be that
if the number of Jews was greater – and it needs to be greater – it’s possible
that I would say that the solution would be different.
“I don’t see,
looking at the long-term picture, any possibility of a community of a few
thousand Jews, for all its achievements and its special heroism, remaining in
Gaza. But I am doing everything I can to save as much as I can [in the West
Bank]. It’s not easy. But there are lots of achievements. I look forward and I
say that there are places of tremendous importance and those places have to be
retained. I am making efforts to save as much as I can.”
While he would
not name specific settlements, he said “the large blocs will be part of the
State of Israel and contiguity will be preserved between them and
Standing by David Ben-Gurion’s grave at a state memorial service
in December 2005, Sharon indicated that his views were reflected in the famous
line by Ben-Gurion on the “demographic reality” faced by Jews in the region,
“when the question was posed as to whether we should choose the whole land
without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without the whole land,” said
He described the process that led him to the policy of
disengagement as one of waking from a dream, in which the reality of the limits
on Israel’s territorial ambitions shook him from the compelling vision of a
To widespread disbelief in the settler community, Sharon
insisted there would be no further disengagement unless the Palestinians ceased
terrorist activities and negotiations became possible. “As long as we cannot get
to a situation where negotiations are possible, nothing else is being discussed
beyond the settlements in Gaza and the four in northern Samaria,” he
“This published assertion [of plans for a second disengagement] has
done great damage. It is a complete lie.
The only place to which we are
able to proceed from the present situation after disengagement, if the
Palestinians do everything they are supposed to do, is to the road
A spot on the world stage
Sharon said that the idea for
disengagement came from the belief that while it was not possible to make an
agreement with the Palestinians until they renounced terror, it was possible to
come to terms with a third party, which in this case was the United States: “I
made an agreement with the Americans. And, as much as I desire good relations
with the Arabs and to make progress in that regard, I place more faith in an
agreement with the Americans than in an agreement with the
He added that the pullout had also helped Israel’s
relationship with the international community as a whole, giving the country
greater legitimacy and proving Israel’s long-time contention that it had no
desire to rule over the Palestinians. “Dozens of heads of state just came for
the opening of the [new] addition to the museum at Yad Vashem,” he
“But it wasn’t only Yad Vashem that brought them here – rather the
fact that Israel’s standing has strengthened.
I have to look at all the
components. And so I think that it was the right move.”
relations between Israel and the international community were perhaps best
reflected in the 2005 invitation to Sharon by the UN General Assembly to address
the opening of its 60th anniversary celebration.
Ten years earlier,
Arafat had addressed the open ing of the 50th, while Sharon was considered a
political pariah. In 2004, the UN condemned Israel for its construction of the
security barrier. Now Sharon, in the fall of 2005, was warmly applauded for a
speech which addressed both his willingness to accept the right of the
Palestinians to a state of their own and Israel’s right to conduct the barrier.
“We will continue to build it until it is completed,” he told the world body, “as would any other country
defending its citizens.”
Moving forward with Kadima
Upon his return to
Israel, Sharon was immediately plunged into a political fight as his Likud
opponents, led by Netanyahu, used his UN statements favoring a Palestinian state
as the latest focus for an effort to oust him from the party
A September central committee vote to set a date for a
leadership contest turned into a showdown between the perpetual rivals with many
indicators that Sharon might bolt the Likud and set up a new centrist grouping
if he lost.
On the night before the vote, in the latest of the Likud
party shenanigans, Sharon’s would be the last major address before the party he
had co-founded went unsaid. In an updated version of the February 1990
“microphone” incident, Sharon was silenced at the microphone as he began to
deliver his speech.
He waited on the stage for about 10 minutes and tried
again, with the same unhappy result. The power supply had been sabotaged. With
no possibility of speaking, Sharon waved and walked out. The Sharon and
Netanyahu camps accused each other of orchestrating the incident, while a Gaza
evacuee claimed responsibility.
The silenced Sharon won the vote, and
with it an implied mandate to continue leading the party, but that did not quell
the anti-disengagement Likud dissent. In November, the “rebel” camp in his party
blocked his efforts to appoint two allies to cabinet positions.
vowed to take revenge, warning there would be “consequences.” He complained that
“In the past year-and-a-half a minority in the coalition had attempted to put
spokes in the government’s wheels.”
Labor had been undergoing its own
leadership convulsions, and when ex-Histadrut trade union chief Amir Peretz
secured the job and took his party out of the government, Sharon dropped a
He announced he was leaving the Likud to form a new
centrist party, Kadima. He said he intended to run with that party for a third
term as prime minister.
“After many misgivings, I decided to leave the
Likud Party,” he said in his departure speech. “In its present form, the Likud
cannot lead Israel toward its national goals. I established the Likud to serve a
national idea and provide hope to the people of Israel, but it unfortunately can
no longer do that.
“Staying in the Likud means wasting time on political
struggles. Instead of acting on behalf of the state, I prefer the good of the
country to the comfortable and easy personal interest. The citizens of Israel
gave their trust and they didn’t elect me to just warm a seat,” he
At 77, he added, it felt good to be starting over.
which he established in partnership with ex-Likud Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert,
immediately led the polls ahead of elections scheduled for March 2006, and much
like his first coalition, it immediately drew a diverse group of politicians
including a dozen Likud MKs, some from Labor. Shinui founder Uriel Reichman,
ex-Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Avi Dichter and Shimon
Sharon seemed set for a third election success when, on Sunday,
December 18, he suffered a mild stroke en route from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The
driver made a U-turn on the highway and brought him Jerusalem’s Hadassah
University Hospital at Ein Kerem. By evening, he was talking and joking. “I feel
much better now,” Sharon said, “I am sorry that I troubled the hospital so
much.” He even made phone calls to diplomatic reporters to assuage any lingering
He was released two days later amidst a flurry of good wishes from
around the world, including from Bush, who called to tell him, “Watch what you
eat, start physical training and work fewer hours.”
Sharon promised to
slow down his pace of work, but his return to office proved brief. On January 4,
he had a second, much more significant stroke while resting in his ranch ahead
of a catheterization procedure he been scheduled to undergo to close a small
hole in his heart.
While family and friends initially remained optimistic
with regard to his recover, he never regained consciousness.
before collapsing he had given what was to be his last media interview, to the
Japanese daily Nihon Keizai Shinbun.
Former Post photographer Ariel
Jerozolimski, who was present for the interview, said Sharon was in a positive
mood. “I found very little deterioration.
Just a few minutes when he
spoke a little slower,” Jerozolimski said.
During the interview Sharon
spoke of the importance of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as a united capital.
“Our position is that Jerusalem is not negotiable.
We are not going to
negotiate on Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be forever a united and undivided capital
of Israel,” said Sharon.
He called on the Palestinians to stop the
terror. “I took a hard and painful step in the disengagement, but after we left
Gaza, terror did not stop. I saw that after disengagement terror didn’t stop.”
He also said one last time that he had no plans to execute a second unilateral
That evening, he left his office and headed to his farm in the
Negev to rest before his surgery the next morning. Around 9 p.m. those who spoke
with him noted that something was off in his voice. He was rushed to Hadassah
University Hospital suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage.
cabinet secretary Israel Maimon understood how serious his condition was, he put
then-attorney- general Menahem (Menny) Mazuz on the telephone with vice premier
Ehud Olmert. Mazuz then transferred to him all prime ministerial powers to
In a 2006 interview with Channel 2, Ehud Olmert said that
Sharon’s sudden ending had biblical dimensions.
“He was on the threshold
of the promised land, he already took the step, he was about to place his foot
on the promised land, and then he fell.”
For his part, Sharon was asked by
then-journalist Yair Lapid in a television interview a decade ago what animal he
would like to be.
Smiling broadly, Sharon replied: “A
Material for this article was taken from The Jerusalem Post’s
archives and from the books, Warrior, the Autobiography of Ariel Sharon, The
Shepherd, by Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom, Sharon: An Israeli Caesar by Uri Benziman
and Sharon: Israel’s Warrior-Politician, by Anita Miller, Jordan Miller and
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