Sharon: The life of a lion

“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.”

Prime minister Sharon prays at the Kotel in Jerusalem in February 2001. (photo credit: gpo)
Prime minister Sharon prays at the Kotel in Jerusalem in February 2001.
(photo credit: gpo)
A childhood in conflictThe 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.

He was 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 in 1933.“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 murdered Arlosoroff.”“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 vehicle.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 army.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 people.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 being harmed.”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 Independence.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.But 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.His 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 field.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 the captives.”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 survivors.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 decision.”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 Gilad.”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 Ariel Sharon.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 1950.With that unit as a model, Sharon in the 1950s, helped the IDF implement the principles of severe retaliation for fatal attacks against Israeli citizens.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.While the 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 the army.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 over.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, Gur.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 1966.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 battle.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.Until 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 autobiography.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 wrote.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.Some soldiers 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.Shortly 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.Forced into 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 Labor.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 will.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 – consolidation.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 With the 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.As 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.They 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 favor.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.Signs were pasted onto some army vehicles by his soldiers proclaiming “Arik, King of Israel.”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 commanders.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 canal.Their dislike of him, he said, cost the IDF two critical days in which they could have achieved “even greater victory.”Other officers, 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 orders.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 further disasters.”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.Sharon 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 “against war.”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 “occupied territories.”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 Jewish milieu.”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 banter...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 become obsolete.”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 Likud.In forming the cabinet, prime minister Begin appointed Sharon agriculture minister. He also asked him to head the Ministerial Settlement Committee.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” Begin.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 Samaria.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 caricature.”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 settlements.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 peace.“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 autobiography.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.Similarly, when 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.”In his autobiography, Sharon even speculated that Begin had appointed him to the post precisely so he could execute the last phase of the three-year withdrawal.“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 border.“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 While 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 said.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 political adversaries.”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 incapacitated.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 Beirut.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.”Yitzhak Berman, 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 defensive.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 negotiations.“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.In defending 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 option.”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.It said 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 commission.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.”Within the 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.”In his 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.Upon 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 resigned.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,” he said.“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.”Time magazine 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 magazine.A 1991 suit against Sharon in Belgium for war crimes relating to the Sabra and Shatilla massacre was rejected, but only on technical grounds.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 camps.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 government.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.Sharon 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 campaign.”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 relationship.Already in 1984, in what some saw as a suicidal move, Sharon challenged Yitzhak Shamir for party leadership.To everyone’s surprise, Sharon received 42.5 percent of the vote, compared to Shamir’s 56 percent.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 Palestinians.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 charged.When Shamir, in turn, addressed the crowd and asked who supported him and his path, Sharon grabbed a second mike and out-shouted the prime minister.“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 Israel.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 initiated.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.Opposing Madrid Until he 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.Shamir’s 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 Madrid.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.As 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 treaty.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.“I 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,” Sharon wrote.“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.“One 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 agreement.“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 holiest site.Conceding rule over the Temple Mount is the beginning of conceding control over Jerusalem,” Sharon concluded.Oslo foe; Rabin friend 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 Gaza.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.“By recognizing this murderer’s organization, the PLO , the government has committed an act of madness.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.”“Having 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 existence.”The value of land was not just a security issue for Sharon.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.Attempts to relinquish such territory, he said in a contentious Knesset session in 1995, were not Jewish.“This government,” he told the plenum, “hates everything Jewish.”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.”Justifying 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.“Anyone 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 anti-Jewish.Ergo Mr. Sarid and his friends are anti-Jewish, and I am a Jew.”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.He 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 unacceptable.”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.According 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.”On 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 compromises.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,” he said.Following the assassination of Rabin in November 1995, Sharon put all his energies into helping Netanyahu topple Labor’s acting prime minister Shimon Peres.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 Palestinians.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 diplomatic decisions.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 biography.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 head.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 meetings.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, however.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 efforts.”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 Barak.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.One of 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 coalition.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 government.”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 Mount.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.Clashes 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 Authority.“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 holiest shrine.”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 again.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 polls.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.While 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 voters.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.”And he 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.”Since their 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 Gilad.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 wrong number.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.In an 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.When she could no longer come with me, she would wait for me at home, awake and supportive.”He, in turn, stayed by her side during her stays in the hospital and went with her on her medical visits to the United States.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, asleep.”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.”“The hardest 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 country.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.Among his 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 minister.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 reported.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 picture.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 surroundings.”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 skepticism.“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.Although Netanyahu 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 15%.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 Mafiastyle family.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.Sharon soundly 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 misplaced priorities.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 outposts.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 the hilltops.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 them.To quantify the problem, he commissioned former state prosecutor Talia Sasson to compile the first government report, released in March 2005, on the outposts.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 was taken.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 residence.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.Still, 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 state.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.”The court ruled that as a result the Fourth Geneva Convention was applicable there.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 stateSharon 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 minister.“The State of Israel wants to give [the Palestinians] what no one offered them in the past – the possibility to establish a state,” Sharon declared.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 said.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 Jordan.”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 me.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.”Sharon told 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.They also have 104 states acknowledging their right to statehood, even before they declare it.”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 2003.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 forever.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 state.”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.Way back in 1976 Sharon had declared that “for a durable peace, I am willing to make territorial concessions.”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 Israeli sovereignty.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 Judaism.”“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 there.”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 us.”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 Ramallah.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 years.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 farm.Sharon, in response, leased it to a friend, but still endured allegations that he made decisions as a minister that benefited the farm.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 overspending.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.”Ben-Gal’s changed 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 was “improper.”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 race.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 worker.Cyril Kern 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 2002.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.The most 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.The Annex Affair 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 primary.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 Omri Sharon.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 provider.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 providers.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.When 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 did.”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.I tried 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 Geneva.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.At the annual Herzliya security conference, Sharon startled his supporters and opponents by announcing a unilateral territorial withdrawal plan.Sharon 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.”Without 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 them.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 deeper 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 perspective.“What you see from here you do not see from there.”A 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 Palestinian refugees.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 said.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 disengagement.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 pullout.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.“There 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 said.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.Against the 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.The pullout 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 force.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 there.”It was for this reason, he said, that he asked for disengagement to be carried out with “as much appreciation, empathy and amicability as possible.”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 achievements.“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.“I 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 out.”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 Israel.”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 Sharon.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 Greater Israel.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 said.“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 map.”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 Palestinians.”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 noted.“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.”Improved 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 leadership.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.Sharon 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 political bombshell.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 said.At 77, he added, it felt good to be starting over.Kadima, 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 Peres.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 fears.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.Shortly 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 move.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.When his 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 Olmert.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 lion.”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 Sigalit Zetouni.