Ariel Sharon: A Biography

From military hawk to political pragmatist

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Sharon in Office

During the first years of Sharon's administration, Palestinian terror attacks increased and diplomatic initiatives were stalled. Sharon was able to form a close and effective alliance with the United States based on common interests in fighting terror and tacit Israeli support for the US war in Iraq. After a spate of terror attacks left 140 dead in March of 2002, Sharon ordered Operation Defensive Wall in the West Bank. From the beginning of the operation, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who Sharon seemed to regard as his personal nemesis, remained besieged and neutralized in his Muqata compound in Ramallah until October, 2004, when he was allowed to leave for medical treatment.
At about the same time, Sharon accepted or helped initiate the Road Map peace initiative that effectively replaced the Oslo peace process with a staged, performance-based plan for peace. The Road Map seemed to develop into a dead letter because neither side was willing to fulfill its commitments. Sharon had promised to remove illegal settlement outposts, but in fact, as late as January 2006, very few of the outposts had been eliminated. Renewed impetus to the peace process was given following the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas to the Palestinian presidency.

In elections held January 28, 2003, Sharon's Likud party won 40 seats, defeating Labor Party candidate Amram Mitzna, who called for unilateral disengagement--withdrawal from Palestinian areas and construction of a defensive barrier to fend off terror attacks.

An IDF campaign targeting suicide bombings gradually became effective in foiling about 90% of the attacks. Targeted assassinations killed major terrorist leaders including Ahmed Yassin and Abdul-Aziz Rantissi, heads of Hamas.

By 2004, it was evident that the IDF, under Sharon's direction, had managed to stem the wave of terror, but the diplomatic stalemate continued. Sharon also came to adopt much of the platform of the Labor party he had defeated. He began construction of a controversial security barrier along Israel's borders. The route of the wall had to be changed time and again because it had included large areas beyond the 1949 armistice lines that infringed on Palestinian territory.

In December 2003, Ariel Sharon seemed to do an abrupt about face, adopting major portions of the plan developed by Ehud Barak and Amram Mitzna and announcing his own Gaza disengagement plan, which eventually won the support of the Bush administration. The plan faced enormous opposition from Sharon's own Likud party and threatened to dissolve the political unity of the Israeli right. Nonetheless, on October 26, 2004, the Knesset passed the plan in what was viewed as a major political triumph for Sharon.

Cooperation with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the disengagement plan, drew increasingly vocal criticism from right wing extremists, formerly Sharon's greatest supporters. Formerly viewed as an archfiend by Arabs and the Israeli left, Sharon now became the target of vilification, including death threats, by the right. The election of Amir Peretz to head the Israel Labor party precipitated early elections.

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Ami Isseroff

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