Two excellent pieces on Sharon at The Nation and The New Yorker explain that the Greater Israel with which the world is now burdened (i.e., it devoured the West Bank) was Ariel Sharon’s creation.
Max Blumenthal at The Nation says that Sharon left Israel no exit from the occupation. “How Ariel Sharon Shaped Israel’s Destiny: In a bloody career that spanned decades, he destroyed entire cities and presided over the killing of countless civilians.” You know the back story, here’s the conclusion:
Israeli settlements are firmly entrenched in the West Bank and encircle East Jerusalem, reducing Palestinian areas to the “pastrami sandwich” of non-contiguous bantustans that Sharon had originally envisioned. With the peace process effectively embalmed in political “formaldehyde,” right-wing elements have achieved unfettered dominance over the Jewish state’s key institutions. Typical of the new generation of Israeli rightists is Sharon’s corruption-stained son, Gilad, who has called Palestinian society a “predator,” an “animal” and “stabbers of babies.”
Now that Sharon’s unilateral vision appears to have been consolidated, Israel’s government must perpetually manage an occupation it has no intention of ending. It has no clear strategy to achieve international legitimacy and no endgame. Its direct line to Washington has become a life-support system for the status quo. Like Sharon, who spent his last years in a comatose state without any hope of regaining consciousness, Israel is only buying time.
The New Yorker balances, but does so fairly. On the one hand, it excerpts Ari Shavit’s 2006 piece on Sharon, “The General,” which while often critical (“More than any other single figure in Israel, Sharon led the transformation of a relatively modest and ascetic state into an occupying bully”), buys into Sharon’s enlightenment (“I don’t think that we need to rule over another people and run its life,” Sharon told Shavit, “I don’t think that we have the strength for that”).
But look who The New Yorker found to memorialize the late prime minister: Raja Shehadeh, the Palestinian trekker and lawyer, who explains in “Sharon’s Corrosive Legacy” that Sharon deceived the world about his objectives in the West Bank– they were to deny Palestinians any real sovereignty– and concludes eloquently that Sharon and other leaders who shared “his vision of Israel as a fortress state rather than one that can attain peaceful relations with its neighbors have done their own people the greatest disservice.”
Can leaders like Sharon, whose special talents flourish only in periods of instability and war, have a vision of peace? During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Sharon proved a master at breaking ceasefires that the United States and others brokered. He used these same skills in his fight against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The pattern of Israeli assassinations and invasions of Palestinian territories suggests that whenever Sharon felt cornered into making a political concession for peace, his government would take an action that was bound to provoke Hamas or other militant Palestinian groups, thus ensuring the premature demise of any efforts at a political resolution to the conflict.
But Sharon knew that he was not going to live forever. He became less concerned with his own political survival than with his legacy. He sought to secure Israel’s hold on the maximum area of Palestinian land, while at the same time suppressing Palestinian resistance. What others called his vision for peace—which he pursued as relentlessly as he pursued war—was based on the total surrender of the Palestinian side and its submission to the dictates of a militarily stronger Israel. But with the whole world watching, Sharon’s brilliance was to portray Palestinian surrender as a painful compromise he was willing to make on behalf of his country, to win for it a true and lasting peace with its aggressive neighbors. This vision was based on sweeping aside the international consensus regarding the end of Israeli occupation of the territory seized by Israel in 1967.
This is extremely helpful analysis, from one of the most contemplative writers you’ll ever meet. The New Yorker is not reaching out to Shehadeh in an act of tokennism or bone-throwing, but because it recognizes the vital importance to the United States of our coming to terms with the Palestinian view of late Zionism (because they know it better than anyone else, and the solution of the conflict depends on their acceptance of a just outcome).