The blind love of the people
Perhaps the most influential leader since David Ben-Gurion, Sharon was the cause of many of the political and security problems now facing Israel.
A concept is born - the "Sharon legacy." Like its predecessor, the "Rabin legacy," it too will present a persona entirely different from the real person. Therefore, a moment before Prime Minister Ariel Sharon becomes the "Sharon legacy," the hero of peace and the disengagement who, had he only continued in his role a little longer, would have brought peace to Israel - we would do well to sketch his non-mythical persona, without mincing words.
Perhaps the most influential leader since David Ben-Gurion, Sharon was the cause of many of the political and security problems now facing Israel. This must be said honestly, even now. The new Sharon, who has earned the respect of a large number of Israelis and of most of the countries in the world, tried in his twilight years only to repair some of the historical mistakes into which he led the country during his life. The settlement project, the strengthening of Hamas and the emergence of Hezbollah as a threatening and significant factor in Lebanon - all owe a great debt to Sharon's policies.
The belated enthusiasm for Sharon is therefore enthusiasm for a clever leader, who tried toward the end of his life to extricate himself somehow from situations that a wise leader would never have gotten into in the first place. He is deserving of respect for this belated change, for his recognition of the limitations of power, for his awareness of the harmfulness of the settlement project and the criminality of the occupation, but it is impossible to ignore his critical role in creating all of these. Because he remained very faithful to his basic worldview, which maintains that there is no chance of peace with the Arabs, we cannot also present him as a "hero of peace" now - just as it was an exaggeration to turn the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin into such a hero after his assassination.
The old Sharon was the one who led the country into the most superfluous and harmful of Israel's wars, the Lebanon War, and would not even raise his hand in favor of the peace agreement with Jordan - the easiest and most convenient of such agreements, from Israel's point of view. The new Sharon blatantly ignored the Palestinians. In critical moves such as the disengagement or the construction of the separation fence, he ignored their existence, their needs and their desires. He did not attempt to achieve peace with them, because he did not for a moment believe that it was possible.
The Sharon legacy will recall mainly the disengagement, not Operation Defensive Shield in Jenin in 2002, nor the retaliation raid in Qibya in 1953, nor the other violent and superfluous operations - just as the Rabin legacy remembers mainly the Oslo Accord. Perhaps that is a lesson for our future leaders: Eternal glory is achieved via peace agreements, not via glorious battlefields.
But even those who believe that Sharon intended to evacuate more settlements cannot ignore the fact that this was a matter of removing some of the rotten fruits of his policy. The historian will remember all of Sharon's insane maps, the "settlement blocs," the "legal" and "illegal" outposts, for which he may have been more responsible than any other Israeli, all of which were designed to prevent any possibility of a just agreement with the Palestinians.
But if on the subject of the settlements Sharon tried to repair the damage he caused - that is not the case in other areas. Israel's two bitterest enemies at present, Hamas and Hezbollah, achieved their positions of strength to no small degree thanks to him. During that same accursed war, the Lebanon War, which is attributed to him, Sharon brought about the removal of the Palestinians from South Lebanon, and their replacement by Hezbollah.
He can take credit for an amazingly similar outcome years later vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority, when he preferred the religious fundamentalists to the moderate secular camp. The new Sharon, who is beloved and esteemed, is responsible for the collapse of the PA as the central entity in the occupied territories, and to its replacement - whether by Hamas, which now threatens to assume control of the government, or by the anarchy that threatens to destroy everything.
During all his years as prime minister, Sharon refrained from granting any support to the leaders of the PA, so that they could establish their rule under the Israeli occupation. Even when the late PA chair Yasser Arafat died, Sharon did not allow his moderate successor to present any significant achievement to his people: neither the release of prisoners, nor a significant increase in freedom of movement, nor taking the Palestinian people into consideration when planning the route of the fence, nor even participation in the beginning of negotiations. Instead, Sharon's Israel did everything in its power to bring about the destruction of the PA and to humiliate it in the eyes of its people. A violent Israeli military effort, which reached its peak in Operation Defensive Shield, caused the collapse of all the PA mechanisms: Police stations that were meant to stabilize the government and to fight terror were bombed mercilessly, and all the mechanisms of the PA and its government offices were destroyed one after another. In the political and social vacuum that resulted, Hamas could only flourish.
The last chapter of his political life saw the eruption of the Iranian threat, perhaps the most dangerous of all. How ironic it is that this threat, which emphasizes the irrelevance of territory in maintaining the country's security, appeared in the waning days of the man who all his life believed that territory is the be-all and end-all.
A moment before Sharon enters the national pantheon, we would do well to remember that at best, we are losing a courageous fighter and a clever statesman rather than a wise one, who caused a great deal of damage and is now leaving the stage enveloped by the blind love of his people.