#25: Ariel Sharon
(July 24, 2003)
Sharon has shown a commitment to his nation’s security and contributed to its defense during a long, distinguished military career. He has also served in a number of capacities in government.
Because of this commitment to Israel’s survival, Sharon may be uniquely positioned to achieve a peace agreement because he can negotiate the difficult and risky compromises Israel will ultimately have to make, and the vast majority of Israelis will be confident that he has protected their security.
Caricatured in the press as “right-wing” and a “hardliner,” Sharon has always been committed to peace with Israel’s neighbors, but his views on how this can be achieved have changed. Today, he is prepared to negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state. He has taken this position in defiance of his own party.
There is a historical precedent for Sharon choosing a difficult sacrifice in the interests of peace. During the Camp David negotiations, the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty came down to Egypt’s demand that Israel dismantle its settlements in the Sinai and Prime Minister Begin was reluctant to make such a sacrifice. He called Sharon for advice and Sharon told Begin peace with Egypt was worth the sacrifice.
After Israel agreed to dismantle the Sinai settlements, one of the largest communities resisted the withdrawal order and it was Ariel Sharon who literally dragged roughly 3,000 Jews from the town of Yamit in 1982.
Sharon has taken similarly tough measures against settlers building unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. Since agreeing to the road map for peace, he has begun to dismantle the outposts, and Israeli soldiers have been required in some instances to forcibly remove those who resisted orders to leave.
The Israeli government under Sharon has shown its commitment to the road map in word and deed. Already, in the first few weeks after accepting its terms, Israel has begun to fulfill its first phase commitments, including withdrawing from areas in the territories where the Palestinians have exerted authority.
While Sharon does not foreswear Israel’s legitimate claims to the disputed territories, he has made clear that he believes Israel should not control the lives of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that Israel should withdraw to secure and defensible borders in exchange for real peace with the Palestinians.
Some people question Sharon’s sincerity about peace. The only way to get an answer is to test him. No Israeli Prime Minister would make concessions so long as terrorism continues. If the terror stops, and Mahmoud Abbas shows the same courage to make peace that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein displayed, then Sharon will be expected to negotiate an end to the conflict based on a two-state solution. Sharon has made clear his willingness to make the tough compromises for peace and the Israeli public will demand no less.