A Napoleon, Made in Israel
He was an Israeli Napoleon.
From early youth, he was totally convinced that he was the only person
in the world who could save the State of Israel. That was an absolute
certainty, free of any doubt. He just knew that he must achieve supreme
power, in order to fulfill the mission that fate had entrusted him with.
This belief led to a complete integration of personal egocentrism and
national egocentrism. For a person who believes he has such a mission,
there is no difference between the personal and the national interest.
What is good for him automatically becomes good for the nation, and vice
versa. This means that anyone who hinders him from attaining power is
really committing a crime against the State. And anyone helping him to
come to power, is really doing a patriotic deed.
This belief directed all his actions for decades. It explains the dogged
determination, the tenacity, the unbending perseverance that became his
trade mark and earned him his nickname "the bulldozer". This attracted
admirers, who fell completely under his influence.
It also explains his attitude to money matters. It has been said that
he "does not stop at a red light", that "laws are not for him". More
than once he was accused of accepting millions from rich Jews abroad. On
the day before his fateful stroke, it came out that the police had
formally accused him of receiving a bribe of three million dollars from
a casino-owner. (It is quite possible that this raised his blood
pressure and helped to cause the massive stroke.) But not all these
millionaires expected a return. Some of them believed, as he did
himself, that by supporting him, they were actually supporting the State
of Israel. Can there be a more sacred duty than to provide an assured
income to the Israeli Napoleon, so that he can devote his entire energy
to the fulfillment of his historic mission?
On his long journey, Sharon easily overcame such hurdles. They did not
divert him from his course. Personal tragedies and political defeats did
not hold him up for a moment. The accidents that killed his first wife
and his oldest son, his dismissal from office after being convicted by a
board of inquiry of "indirect responsibility" for the Sabra and Shatila
massacres, as well as the many other setbacks, failures and
disappointments that struck him throughout the years did not deter him.
They did not divert him for an instant from his endeavor to achieve
And now it was all coming true. On Wednesday, January 4, 2006, he could
be certain that in three months time he would become the sole leader of
Israel. He had created a party that belonged to him alone and that was
not only on track to occupy a central position in the next Knesset, but
also to cut all other parties into pieces.
He was determined to use this power to change the political landscape of
Israel altogether and introduce a presidential system, which would have
given him an all-powerful position, like that enjoyed by Juan Peron in
his heyday in Argentina. Then, at long last, he would be able to realize
his historic mission of laying the tracks on which Israel would run for
generations, as David Ben-Gurion had done before him.
And then, just when it seemed that nothing could stop him anymore, with
cruel suddenness, his own body betrayed him.
What happened resembles a central motif of the Jewish myth: the fate of
Moses, whom God punished for his pride by allowing him a glimpse of the
Promised Land from afar, but having him die before he could set foot on
its soil. On the threshold of absolute power, the stroke hit Ariel Sharon.
While he was still fighting for his life in hospital, the myth of
"Sharon's Legacy" was already beginning to form.
As has happened with many leaders who did not leave a written testament,
every individual is free to imagine a Sharon of his own. Leftists, who
only yesterday had cursed Sharon as the murderer of Kibieh, the butcher
of Sabra and Shatila and the man responsible for the plunder and
slaughter in the occupied Palestinian territories, began to admire him
as the "Man of Peace". Settlers, who had condemned him as a traitor,
remembered that it was he who had created the settlements and kept on
enlarging them to this day.
Only yesterday he was one of the most hated people in Israel and the
world. Today, after the evacuation of Gush Katif, he has become the
darling of the public, almost from wall to wall. The leaders of nations
crowned him as the "great warrior who has turned into a hero of peace".
Everybody agrees that Sharon has changed completely, that he has gone
from one extreme to the other, the proverbial Ethiopian who has changed
his skin, the leopard who has changed his spots.
All these analyses have only one thing in common: they have nothing to
do with the real Ariel Sharon. They are based on ignorance, illusion and
A look at his long career (helped, I may add, by some personal
knowledge) show that he has not changed at all. He stayed true to his
fundamental approach, only adapting his slogans to changing times and
circumstances. His master-plan remained as it was at the beginning.
Underlying his world view is a simplistic, 19th century style
nationalism, which says: our people stands above all others, other
people are inferior. The rights of our nation are sacred, other nations
have no rights at all. The rules of morality apply only to relations
within the nation, not to relations between nations.
He absorbed this conviction with his mother's milk. It governed Kfar
Malal, the cooperative village in which he was born, as it also governed
the whole world at the time. Among Jews in particular it was reinforced
by the horrors of the Holocaust. The slogan "all the world is against
us" is deeply anchored in the national psyche, and is applied especially
On this moral base the aim emerged: to establish a Jewish state, as
large as possible, free of non-Jews. That could lead to the conclusion
that the ethnic cleansing, begun by Ben-Gurion in 1948, when half the
Palestinians were deprived of their homes and land, must be completed.
Sharon's career began shortly after, when he was appointed to lead the
undercover commando Unit 101, whose murderous actions beyond the borders
were designed mainly to prevent the refugees from infiltrating back to
However, Sharon became convinced quite early that another wholesale
ethnic cleansing was impossible in the foreseeable future (barring some
unforeseeable international event changing conditions altogether.)
In default of this option, Sharon believed that Israel must annex all
the areas between the Mediterranean and the Jordan without a dense
Palestinian population. Already decades ago, he prepared a map that he
showed proudly to local and foreign personalities in order to convert
them to his views.
According to this map, Israel will annex the areas along the pre-1967
border as well as the Jordan valley, up to the "back of the mountain"
(an expression particularly dear to Sharon). It will also annex several
East-West strips to connect the Jordan valley with the Green Line. In
these territories that are marked for annexation, Sharon created a dense
net of settlements. That was his principal endeavor throughout the last
thirty years, in all his diverse positions - Minister of Agriculture,
Minister of Industry and Trade, Minister of Defense, Minister of
Housing, Foreign Minister, Minister of Infrastructure, and Prime
Minister - and this work is going on at this minute.
The areas with a dense Palestinian population, Sharon intended to hand
over to Palestinian self-government. He was determined to remove from
them all the settlements that were set up there without thinking. This
way, eight or nine Palestinian enclaves would have come into being, cut
off from each other, each one surrounded by settlers and Israeli army
installations. He did not care whether these would be called a
"Palestinian state". His recent use of this term is an example of his
ability to adapt himself, outwardly and verbally, to changing situations.
The Gaza strip is one of these enclaves. That is the real significance
of the uprooting of the settlements and the withdrawal of the Israeli
army. It is the first stage in the realization of the map: this small
area, with a dense Palestinian population of a million and a quarter,
was turned over to the Palestinians. The Israeli land, sea and air
forces surround the strip almost completely. The very existence of its
inhabitants depends at all times on the mercy of Israel, which controls
all entrances and exits (except the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which is
monitored by Israel from afar.) Israel can cut off the water and
electricity supply at a moment's notice. Sharon intended to create the
same situation in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin and the other areas.
Is this a "peace plan"?
Peace is made between nations which agree to create a situation where
all of them can live in freedom, well-being and mutual respect and
believe that that is good for them. This is not what Sharon had in mind.
As a military man, he knows only truces. If peace had been handed to him
on a platter, he would not have recognized it.
He knew perfectly well that no Palestinian leader could possibly agree
to his map, now or ever. That's why he did not intend to have any
political negotiations with the Palestinians. His slogan was "we have no
partner". He intended to realize all the stages of his plan
"unilaterally", as he did in Gaza - without dialogue with the
Palestinians, without considering their requirements and aspirations,
and, of course, without seeking their consent.
But Sharon did indeed intend to make peace - peace with the United
States. He considered American consent as essential. He knew that
Washington could not give its consent to his whole plan. So he intended
to obtain their agreement phase by phase. Since President Bush has
submitted to him entirely, and no one knows who will succeed him, Sharon
intended to realize the main part of his plan within the next two or
three years, before the end of the President's term in office. That is
one of the reasons for his hurry. He had to come to absolute power now,
immediately. Only the stroke prevented this.
The eagerness with which so many good people on the left embraced the
"Sharon Legacy" does not show their grasp of his plans, but rather their
own longing for peace. They long with all their heart for a strong
leader, who has the will and the ability to end the conflict.
The determination with which Sharon removed the settlers from Gush Katif
filled these leftists with enthusiasm. Who would have believed that
there was a leader capable of carrying it out, without civil war,
without bloodshed? And if this has happened in the Gaza Strip, why can't
it happen in the West Bank? Sharon will drive the settlers out and make
peace. All this, without the Left having to lift a finger. The savior,
like Deus, will jump ex machina. As the Hebrew proverb goes, "the work
of the righteous is done by others", who may be something quite other
Sharon has easily adapted himself to this longing of the public. He has
not changed his plan, but given it a new veneer, in the spirit of the
times. From now on, he appeared as the "Man of Peace". He never cared
which mask it was convenient to wear. But this mask reflects the deepest
wishes of the Israeli people.
From this point of view, the imaginary "Sharon Legacy" can play a
positive role. When he created his new party, he took with him a lot of
Likud people, those who had come to the conclusion that the goal of "The
Whole of Eretz Israel" has become impossible to attain. Many of these
will remain in the Kadima party even after Sharon has left the tribune.
As a result of an ongoing, slow subterranean process, Likud people, too,
are ready to accept the partition of the country. The whole system is
moving in the direction of peace.
The "Sharon Legacy", even if imaginary, may become a blessing, if Sharon
appears in it in his latest incarnation: Sharon the uprooter of
settlements, Sharon who is ready to give up parts of Eretz Israel,
Sharon who agrees to a Palestinian state.
True, this was not Sharon's intention. But, as Sharon himself might have
said: It is not the intentions that matter, but the results on the ground.