Monday, February 13, 2006

To our Jewish Leader...

A farewell to Sharon

By Yoel Marcus

The news that there has been a sudden change for the worse in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition, and that his life is in immediate danger because of damage to his large intestine - which was broadcast on Saturday morning - shocked the country. After two strokes, a series of brain operations and a deep coma that has lasted for five weeks, and now another critical operation and his life hanging by a thread, I thought that this is not the end of which Sharon was deserving.

An acclaimed fighter like him was liable to have been killed on the battlefield or by a fanatical assassin for having shelved the dream of the Greater Land of Israel or even to have been taken by death in a storm, like Raful (Rafael Eitan). The news that he is cut off from the world, "in serious but stable condition" and now also "critical condition," and with his life "in danger" just when he had made the great dramatic turnaround in his life sounds like a Greek tragedy.

Twice Sharon swept the country after him by storm to controversial goals. Both times he was not there when he was most needed. Once in the Lebanon War, and a second time in the relinquishing of the dream of the Greater Land of Israel and the ending of the occupation at the price of painful concessions. In Lebanon he was mistaken in thinking that it was possible to achieve a peace agreement between the two countries with Christian leader Bashir Gemayel. I remember Sharon waving around a "draft peace treaty" at the Newspaper Editors' Committee. In fact the paper was not signed and was worthless after Sabra and Chatila and the assassination of Bashir Gemayel. But Sharon as deposed defense minister was not there to get us out of the long-term mud into which he had led us. It took 18 years of bloodshed before prime minister Ehud Barak gathered the courage to get us out of Lebanon overnight in May 2000.

Now that Sharon has brought about a political turnaround in the founding of Kadima, a mammoth party that was intended to lead Israel to the end of the occupation, entailing an expected struggle with the settlers that will not be easy, he is sunk in a deep coma. He is in serious but stable condition, and perhaps still on the verge of danger to his life, and the irreversible fact is that he is not here when the strength of his leadership is most needed.

Many members of the public blame Sharon for having been the father of the settlement movement. The truth is that Labor was the first to have initiated settlement in the territories, on the grounds that this was mainly security settlement - whereas Sharon, as the founder of the Likud, scattered the Jewish settlements and the outposts over the territories for political needs, in order to create an irreversible situation of total control of the West Bank.

There were those who said that in this way he atoned for having evacuated Yamit in accordance with prime minister Menachem Begin's instructions. The settler leaders, among them his comrades in arms, reminded him that just a few years ago he said that "the fate of Netzarim is like the fate of Tel Aviv." So he said that. There came a point in time in his tenure as prime minister when he said that "things you see from here you don't see from there." A point in time when he realized that he had been mistaken in his passion of many years to annex territories and recognized the necessity of the turnaround. The ability to admit mistakes was part of his political
maturation and his ripeness as a national leader. Fact: Today Netzarim and all its sisters are no longer in Gaza. Nor are we.

As commander of Unit 101 he rescued the Israel Defense Forces from the military stagnation into which it had sunk after the War of Independence. From the 1950s to the 1970s he established standards for reprisal actions and the war on terror and was considered the father of the aggressive IDF military doctrine.

Sharon's greatness was that at every stage he recognized the turning point. His attitude toward the settlers changed when he recognized the limits of force, and the international pressure to put an end to the occupation. Kadima responded to the wishes of the majority of the public to arrive at an agreement, and thus immediately gave it a massive majority for shelving the dream of the Greater Land of Israel. Its organization as a leading and rousing center party was so swift that it seems as though Sharon sensed he would not be there to lead it.

As he lies on his deathbed, cut off from what is happening, between critical condition and danger to his life, it is infuriating to see the Schadenfreude of the extremist rabbis and the Greater Land of Israel crazies who view his condition as punishment from heaven, and who are liable to draw encouragement from this personal tragedy which will lead to violent resistance and a civil war against those who continue his way. But their battle is lost in advance. Sharon, in a correct strategy with the correct timing, conquered the heart of the majority of the people. Kadima will gallop ahead even without its founder.

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