Ariel Sharon: A Biography

From military hawk to political pragmatist

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In 1981 Ariel Sharon was appointed Defense Minister. He was the architect of the 1982 Lebanon War. The war brought about the destruction of the PLO terrorist infrastructure in Lebanon and forced the PLO and Yasser Arafat into exile in Tunis. However, the war was very unpopular in Israel and abroad because of needless loss of life in operations such as the assault on the Beaufort and the disastrous massacre of at least 700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian militia.

Sharon was indicted by the Kahan commission for failing to foresee the possibility of a massacre and failing to intervene after the massacre was underway. In 1983, Sharon resigned as Defense Minister after a government commission found him indirectly responsible for the September 1982 massacre. The war in Lebanon and the Qibieh and Sabra and Shatila massacres gave Sharon the reputation of a hated super-hawk in much of the Arab world.

Sharon remained in the government as a minister without portfolio until 1984. He served as Minister of Industry and Trade from 1984-90. In this capacity, he concluded the Free Trade Agreement with the US in 1985. From 1990-1992, Sharon served as Minister of Construction and Housing and Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Immigration and Absorption. Sharon was opposed to the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians and sought ways to undermine it.

Becoming Prime Minister

In 1998, Ariel Sharon was appointed Foreign Minister and headed the permanent status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. He participated in the Wye River negotiations. While serving as Foreign Minister, Sharon met with US, European, Palestinian, and Arab leaders to advance the peace process. At the same time, he sought to accelerate the building of settlements in the West Bank.

After the election of Ehud Barak as Prime Minister in May 1999, Ariel Sharon became interim Likud party leader following the resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu. In September 1999, he was elected Chairman of the Likud. He also served as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset. Sharon insisted on visiting the Temple Mount Haram al-Sharif compound in September of 2001. His visit triggered, or served as the excuse for, a wave of violence that put an end, in practical terms, to the Oslo peace process and brought about the fall of his rival, Ehud Barak.

In a special election held on February 6, 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister, decisively defeating Ehud Barak. He presented his government to the Knesset on March 7, 2001. He pursued an uncompromising line against Palestinian terror groups and Yasser Arafat, and insisted that Arafat was an obstacle to peace and personally responsible for much of the violence of the Intifada. However, Sharon did not carry out the extreme programs of hawks or vindicate predictions of anti-Zionists that he would commit genocide against the Palestinians. Sharon's stand against terrorism received more support from the US and European countries following the World Trade Center bombings in September 2001.

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Ami Isseroff

Ami Isseroff is a web journalist and director of MidEastWeb for Coexistence. He lives in Rehovot, Israel.