An admiring, if critical, life of the Israeli warrior/politician.
When Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in January 2006, he “cast Israel’s future in a nebulous light.” So write Hefez and Bloom, editors of the Israeli weekly newspaper Yedioth Tikshoret, in this study of a man widely reviled and widely honored both at home and abroad. The point is well taken, for Sharon had just engineered what seemed an impossibility: the removal of unauthorized Israeli enclaves in Gaza and the West Bank after having been “the greatest proponent of Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.” The equivocation was characteristic of Sharon, the authors assert; the man—born Arik Scheinerman and given his Hebrew nom de guerre by David Ben-Gurion—himself had long opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and then endorsed it, had favored massive retaliation against Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War but rejected it in the second, had long held out against the withdrawal from the West Bank and then ordered that very thing. What Sharon’s legacy will be is anyone’s guess, but he will likely be remembered for the creation of the right-wing Likud Party, which has dominated Israeli politics for many years. Hefez and Bloom’s account of the strange-bedfellow rivalries across and within party lines is fascinating: the long rivalries among Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin, Ehud Olmert and Sharon over the years make it seem a miracle that any unified act has ever come out of the Knesset. Sharon’s late move to the center, the authors suggest, was heartfelt and not the result of political calculation; even though its coincidence with Colin Powell’s lobbying for moderation vis-à-vis the Palestinians after 9/11 is interesting, the shift may owe most to Sharon’s desire “to change his entry in the annals of history from warmonger to peacemaker.”
Peacemakers are rare in the Middle East today, and this well-written biography is thus particularly timely.