Politics: Unconscious legacy

Sharon's advisers say it's wrong to judge him by the current state of the Gaza Strip.

Sharon in Knesset 88 (photo credit: )
Sharon in Knesset 88
(photo credit: )
Ariel Sharon's former advisers and confidants spent the week answering questions from reporters about their memories of the prime minister who suffered a career-ending stroke two years ago Friday and never regained consciousness. But when they were asked about Sharon's legacy, some of them were taken aback. After all, Sharon is still lying in a coma at Sheba Medical Center, and a legacy is something you are supposed to leave behind when you're dead. "It's hard to say goodbye to Arik Sharon because the man is alive," his bureau chief, Dov Weisglass, said. "He's all there except for his consciousness." Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines legacy as "something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past," irrespective of whether he or she is dead. American presidents build libraries that focus on their legacies, regardless of their age when they leave office. Sharon's former advisers described him as "neither dead nor really alive." They said that memorializing him was more controversial than discussing the legacy of someone healthy, because although doctors ruled out a comeback, they still maintained hope. But every Kassam rocket that flew from the Gaza Strip since disengagement, the Katyusha fired Thursday and the Winograd Committee's report into the Second Lebanon War have all raised questions about what Sharon would have done, and whether his actions would be remembered positively. Likud MK Yisrael Katz, who served as Sharon's assistant from 1983-1988, said that had he not withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, it would be easy to define his legacy as the builder of the settlements. But disengagement marred that image. "It's hard for me to defend him even now by saying things like 'Sharon wouldn't have made this or that concession,'" Katz said. "But time changes things, and maybe at some stage it will be different." Katz said that although Sharon's picture still hangs on the wall of the Kadima faction, no one could guarantee that the party will last any longer than he will. He said that unlike former prime minister Menachem Begin, who is remembered fondly by nearly the entire political spectrum, Sharon has been left in a lose-lose situation. "He doesn't have the Right or the Left to memorialize him," Katz said. "The Right would have celebrated his settlement legacy had he not withdrawn from Gaza, and the Left didn't adopt him, because he didn't bring peace." Katz predicted that Sharon would ultimately be remembered for his uncompromising war on terror - an issue uniting Right and Left that took prominence internationally when he was prime minister, as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Sharon's former advisers who shared his political views at the end of his career said there was a lot more about him that could unite people. His former director-general, Kadima MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, said that Sharon succeeded in building a consensus of Israelis who would have trusted him to set Israel's final borders. "He could have accomplished anything, because he had the public's trust," Yitzhaki said. "He will be remembered as the last of his venerable generation of leaders, and now with our current leadership crisis, we can appreciate that generation more than ever." Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, who served as an aide to Sharon, said he would be remembered for the issue that was the basis for founding Kadima: the need to determine Israel's borders in order to preserve it as a Jewish state despite demographic realities. "Sharon knew what was right for Israel at different junctures: settlements at one point, demographics at another," Hasson said. "Sharon's legacy is his decision to guarantee that Israel will forever remain a Jewish state. Smaller, but definitely Jewish." Sharon's advisers said it was wrong to judge him by the current state of the Gaza Strip, because he would have handled the rocket and mortar attacks differently from the way his successor, Ehud Olmert, has been doing it. "He told the Americans that the first time a Kassam would fall after disengagement, we would respond in the harshest way possible," the adviser said. "He wouldn't let happen what is going on in Gaza. The Palestinians would have known that we would hit them back harder every time they attacked us." The adviser said Sharon knew disengagement would harm his legacy, but he was willing to pay a personal price to do what he thought was necessary for Israel's long-term future. "Now the results of disengagement don't look good, but in 20 years I think it will be remembered positively, because it helped Israel's image, and it allowed us to concentrate on other issues like Syria, Lebanon and Iran," the adviser said. "He will be remembered as the synthesis of a man of peace and the man who killed the most Arabs." Lior Chorev, who was an integral part of Sharon's ranch forum of advisers, said that even though Sharon did not get to finalize Israel's final borders, the route of the security fence - which he decided - would ultimately serve as the basis for the border and as Sharon's lasting legacy. "He felt he needed to set the border because he didn't trust the younger generations," Chorev said. "He knew the fence route by heart and the reason for every stretch of land being on one side or the other." Chorev said Sharon's legacy was the history of Israel that could be told via his life. He said Israelis would learn about his days fighting for Israel's independence in the Alexandroni Brigade, saving the country in the Yom Kippur War, settling the land and then realizing that practically, Israel had to make concessions, even without a partner, to maintain the key accomplishments of the settlements. "Legacy requires perspective and the ability to look back at events," Chorev said. "Sharon's legacy is being built, but it hasn't been defined yet."