To most Arabs he's the butcher of Sabra and Shatilla, the man who locked Yasser Arafat
in the Mukata, the assassin of Sheikh Yassin
The Arab world despises Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
for masterminding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon
and what they see as his part in the massacres there, for his hard-line approach in dealing with the Palestinians during the intifada, and for his policy of "liquidations."
That view remains strong despite his move Monday to leave the Likud and establish a party left of it.
"Nobody sees him as someone nice and cuddly," an Arab banker told The Jerusalem Post
in a phone call from Bahrain
. The banker asked not to be identified on the record speaking to an Israeli paper.
One Arab expert said that Sharon's image would not change in Arab eyes no matter what he does. "In my opinion Sharon will remain an ugly face to Arabs and Muslims," Hassan Satti, a political analyst from the respected London-based Asharq Alawsat
newspaper, told the Post
"I think the Arabs will never forgive the hard line he took against the leadership of the Palestinians, first against [former Palestinian president] Yasser Arafat and later against Mahmoud Abbas
, when he was in power for a short time."
During the intifada, Sharon said he would never negotiate with Palestinian leaders while terror attacks took place.
Yet, while Sharon may never be loved or trusted by the Arab world, his departure Monday from the increasingly right-wing Likud party
to create a center party has some Arabs thinking that the "man of war" may become their partner in peace.
"This guy has always been perceived as warrior, but he seems to be moving in the direction of peace," said the banker. "Maybe he will surprise us all."
A middle-aged Jordanian businessman who opposes normalizing ties with Israel
before it makes a settlement with the Palestinians, said he never trusted Sharon.
"He has killed too much," said the businessman, who asked to remain anonymous. But now he believes that Sharon wants to make peace. "Sharon wants to finish his life with doing something great: to leave his stamp on Israel and the world. He is old and he spent many years fighting. He came to the conclusion that war cannot continue forever."
Some Arabs said that Sharon's right-wing identity may be key to him realizing peace with his Arab neighbors.
"Historically it is the Likud which makes peace and Labor which goes to war," said Satti. "Sharon may try to break this rule and try to achieve peace."
According to the banker, "Sharon has the credibility [among Israelis] to make concessions that a leftist prime minister would not be able to make."
Like many Arabs, the banker was knowledgeable of the Israeli political scene.
Arabs talking to the Post
pondered what made him make these changes.
None believed that the reason for Sharon's more centrist political stance is a result of a change in attitude towards the Palestinians.
"The compromises and concessions he is making are because he thinks they are for the good of Israel," said the banker.
"Maybe he is doing it not for the sake of peace but to deal with the internal political issues," said Satti.
Guilt was another reason Arabs thought Sharon moved left.
"Maybe he has a sense of guilt being the man of Sabra and Shatilla and of the systematic assassinations and he wants to correct his bloody political legacy," said Satti.
"He is killing too many people," said the Jordanian. "He wants to end his political life doing something that the God will forgive him."