Questions about legacy left unanswered after Ariel Sharon dies

By Charlene
11 January 2014

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli premier who died today at 85, leaves behind a controversial political heritage that has yet to be embraced by any of Israel's ideological camps.

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli premier who died today at 85, leaves behind a controversial political heritage that has yet to be embraced by any of Israel's ideological camps.

Sharon was despised by the left for his unstinting support for the settlement enterprise and for masterminding Israel's disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982. He also fell foul of the right for his evacuation in 2005 of all troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

The settler community, both the extreme right and their more mainstream counterparts in the ruling rightwing Likud party, once headed by Sharon, never forgave him for having "betrayed" them.

"Certainly there are many of us (myself included) with great anger about the expulsion of 8,000 Gush Katif residents from their homes and the disastrous results for the citizens of Israel," Economy Minister Naftali Bennett wrote on Facebook last week.

"Something like that just can't ever happen again, ever," wrote Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home, a bastion of support for the settlers.

Without pointing directly at Sharon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly cited the takeover of Gaza by the Islamist movement Hamas in 2007 as reason enough to avoid a similar pullout from the West Bank.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Labour and the leftwing Meretz party hailed Sharon's bold move, known as the disengagement plan, but also criticised it for being unilateral.

They claim that by refusing to negotiate the move with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Sharon effectively weakened his hand and ultimately strengthened Hamas.

On the political front, the hope sparked by Kadima, the centrist party founded by Sharon in November 2005, just six weeks before his collapse, has long since dissipated.

Following Sharon's stroke on January 4, 2006, general elections were held and Kadima won a spectacular victory. It took 29 of parliament's 120 seats, becoming overnight the country's largest political party. For Likud, now headed by Netanyahu, the election was an unprecedented disaster, with the party securing just 12 seats. But Kadima's soaring success only made its fall harder.

As Sharon's overwhelming presence faded quickly from public memory, so too his party. It barely scraped across the electoral threshold in the elections of January 2013, winning just two seats.

Several months before the election, Tzipi Livni, who left Likud with Sharon to found Kadima, then left it to set up her own centrist faction, HaTnuah, which won six seats.

Now justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Livni today espouses a more dovish position over territorial concessions.

Shaul Mofaz, another Likud veteran who also jumped ship to Kadima, remains at the head of the party but never speaks of the Gaza pullout.

Since Sharon's health took a turn for the worse on January 1, most Israeli commentators have been quick to compare his leadership with that of Netanyahu.

They presented him as a statesman who, while not infallible, never failed to take risks he believed were necessary. In contrast, Netanyahu has been repeatedly criticised for his leadership, with commentators characterising him as hesitant and indecisive.

"The question now is how Sharon's legacy will be interpreted by those remaining: whether they shall seek to honour it, challenge it, mock it, ordrape it in irony," Mira Sucharov wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz daily on Tuesday.

- Jean-Luc Renaudie


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