It would seem like an unlikely prospect – a military man who fought some of the most bitter wars in Israel’s history, a leader of the Jewish people who went from a hawk to an unlikely dove and who presided over an Israeli withdrawl from occupied territory in order to make Israel more safe.
I’m not talking about Ariel Sharon, but Yitzhak Rabin.
Yet strangely enough, it appears that Prime Minister Sharon is following the footsteps of Rabin in many ways with his historic pullout from Gaza. Arik Sharon, the great warrior with a reputation for toughness has even pubicly apologized for his treatment of Rabin before his assassination and has granted Yasser Arafat safe passage to Jordan as he dies of a blood illness.
At the same time, Sharon’s bold initiative in Gaza has drawn the ire of his own Finance Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu who is also one of Sharon’s strongest opponents for leadership of the Likud Party.
Sharon understands that there can be no peace if Israel is defending the undefendable. The settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are preventing Israel from being truly secure. Sharon is doing what Israel needs to do, running out the clock for the Palestinians. By preventing the rampant terrorism of the _intifada_ from reaching Israel, Sharon is waiting that the imminent death of Yasser Arafat ends with saner heads prevailing and a chance to truly work on some kind of lasting peace. The only way that can happen is if the Palestinians choose it. No amount of force or negotiation can solve the situation until the viciously anti-Semitic culture that has permeated Palestinian society ends. By walling off Gaza and the West Bank, Sharon essentially is giving the Palestinians a time out – they can’t attack Israel and they have to solve their own problems. Pragmatically, it is the only way to keep Israel safe without reoccupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
I have much respect for Netanyahu, and regard him as a brilliant mind and an eloquent speaker, but he is foolishly tearing the Likud Party apart. Even within the party his calls for a referendum are not well supported, and if he engages in a struggle for dominance within Likud it will likely tear the party apart. Then again, the big winners in this would the secularist Shinui Party – a party that is strong on defending Israel but stands for a more pluralistic Israeli society. Shinui is rapidly approaching Labour as the #2 party in Israel, and if Likud ended up splitting due to a Netanyahu/Sharon split it is quite possible that they would be able to obtain additional seats in the Knesset.
What Sharon is doing is a courageous gambit that puts him at odds with the far-right in Israel, and already Israeli radicals have threatened that he will follow Rabin to the grave. At the same time, Sharon is doing what is right for Israel. The West Bank and Gaza cannot be secured without sacrificing the security of the rest of Israel. The only way to end this war and give peace a chance is to wait for the larger social conditions in the Middle East to change and for the Palestinians to come back with sensible leadership. Sharon’s disengagement plan is right for Israel’s security and safety, and he has show a level of personal courage and sacrifice that is laudable. I’ve never been a big fan of Arik Sharon, but he has proven to be someone who is willing to do what is right despite great risk, and he deserves credit for it.