The Alleged Transformation of Ariel Sharon: Mostly Myth, Little Reality
By Stephen J. Sniegoski
With the death of former Israeli general and prime minister Ariel Sharon on January 11, the United States media were ablaze with eulogies lauding his alleged transformation from a rough-edged man of warto an apostle of peace.Andeven when discussing Sharon’s pre-transformed persona, the media encomiumsgenerally failed to describe or even refer to the horrific activities for which he was responsible, such as the massacres at the undefended West Bank village of Qibya in 1953 and the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon in 1982. In short, the pre-transformedSharon was often portrayed as basically a tough defender of a beleaguered Jewish state faced by unrelenting enemies who would use any means possible to destroy it.The message being conveyed was that in such a hostileenvironment, Israel’s very survival required military leadersto eschew Marquis of Queensbury-like rules of civilized warfare.
But then as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put it in his quasi-hagiography of the deceased Israeli leader: “He [Sharon] sought to bridge the gap between physical and political security with the same courage and decisiveness that had brought him victory in battle.” The new, peaceful Sharon, according to Kissinger, “volunteered the largest withdrawal in Israel’s history. He ended the Israeli occupation of Gaza and returned it to Arab self-rule as a unilateral act without reciprocity, abandoning even the Jewish settlements that had been established there. These gestures were conceived as a test case for a negotiation about the future of the West Bank.”
(“Ariel Sharon’s journey from soldier to statesman,” Washington Post, January 13, Updated January 17, 2014, http://wapo.st/1aYdHm4)
This picture of Sharon’s personal transformation makes a very nice, uplifting story and could serve as the basis for a popular Hollywood movie, in the spirit of the 1960 blockbuster hit “Exodus,” which provided a fanciful pro-Zionist account of the creation of the state of Israelabsent any portrayal of the accompanying mass murders and expulsions of the Palestinians. And the mythical Sharon transformation theme could even provide more of a biblical touch than the “Exodus” movie, since Sharon, like Moses, would be unable to reach the promised land of peace himself, being struck down by a massive stroke in early January 2006 and remaining in a coma until his recent death,
In reality, however, instead of Sharon’s Israel making a sacrificial step toward peace, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005 simply reflected the abandonment of a costly and untenable position—the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had beenrequired to protect a mere 8,000 Jewish settlers living among 1.3 millionPalestinians in a land area comprising only around five percent ofthe overall Occupied Territories.As Middle East historian Juan Cole has put it: “For Sharon, Gaza itself could be configured as an enormous slum. The withdrawal of the Israeli colonists from Gaza was simply a way of moving them into the gated community, so as to keep them safe more cheaply than military patrols and reprisals could hope to.”
(“The jailer,” “Salon,” January 12, 2006,
Moreover, as has now become quite obvious, the Israeli withdrawal didnot mean that Israel had given up effective control of Gaza. Rather, Israelstill maintained full control of the water, communications, airspace, andall border entry and exit points. Israel also retained the right to intervenemilitarily inside Gaza at any time, a right that it has not been unwilling to exercise. Gaza has essentially become a jail for its inhabitants while Israelis serve as the jailers.
The pullout from Gaza, which was ballyhooed in the mainstream media as a monumentalIsraeli concession, was more of a smoke screen to generate internationalsupport for Israel’s grand plan to destroy any prospect for a viablePalestinian state. For while Sharon evacuated the few Jewish settlersfrom Gaza and proposed to abandon a few isolated Jewish settlements onthe West Bank, he had declared his intention to hold on to Israel’s majorsettlement blocs in the West Bank, where intensive new housing constructionfor Jewish settlers was ongoing and continues until this very day. The effect of this was to cut the WestBank in half, thus allowing Israel to control Palestinian movement fromone part of their territory to another, while concomitantly isolating PalestinianEast Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine. Since a substantial part of thePalestinian economy was centered on Jerusalem and its tourism, Sharon’splan effectively eliminated the potential productive capability of the envisionedPalestinian state, rendering it an economically non-viable congeries ofdiscontiguous Bantustans enveloped by the “security” wall.
That this sham was the real purpose of Sharon’swithdrawal policy was candidly revealed at the time of its proposal by his close advisor and confidant, DovWeisglass (a sophisticated Tel Aviv lawyer), in an interview with Ha’aretznewspaper in October 2004. Whereas many on the Israeli Right, especially the Israeli settler movement, feared that Sharon was planning to makereal concessions to the Palestinians, which ultimately would result in the abandonment of the West Bank settlements,Weisglass, in perhaps a political effort to assuage those fears, pointed out that this was just the opposite of what would be achieved, whichwas the“freezing of the political process.” And this “freezing,” Weisglass went on to expound, meant that “you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [United States] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”
(Avi Shavit, “Top PM aide: Gaza plan aims to freeze the peace process,” Ha’aretz, October 6, 2004, http://bit.ly/1kBiaoA )
Trying to make certain that his major point was understood, Weisglass declared that the proposed disengagement “is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” Weisglassessentially implied that forestalling negotiations would, by the tried-and-true Israeli tactic ofcreating facts on the ground, ultimately bring about the complete integration of key parts of the West Bank into the Israeli state.
In short, Sharon’s persona had not changed but ratherhe came to realize that new tactics were needed to achieve the same goals he had formerly attained by blatant brute force. And Sharon was smart enough to rely on cunning lawyers such as Weisglass, who knew how to cater to international, especially American, opinion to achieve these goals.