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The Loss of Ariel Sharon
Though ultimately no friend of the Palestinians, Ariel Sharon in the short run was doing what no left-wing Israeli leader could: split the far-right and acknowledge that a smaller Israel with defensible borders was better than the continued domination of 3 million Palestinians.
BERKELEY, Calif.--Many of us in the peace movement are praying for Ariel Sharon's recovery even though we still see him as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East in the long run. While we would never wish for the death of anyone, even our enemies, we might have hoped that people like the president of Iran, or Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, or even President Bush would be peacefully removed from office quickly. Yet the developments of recent months have made many peaceniks hope that Sharon would stay in office at least through the completion of the next half-year.
The reason is that Ariel Sharon has done what no one on the Left was able to do: split the Right, marginalize the extremists who believe that holding on to the biblical vision of the Land of Israel is a divine mandate, and get large numbers of Israelis to acknowledge that a smaller Israel with defensible borders is preferable to a large Israel that requires domination of 3 million Palestinians.
Sharon was not just a talker, he was a doer. Once he really understood that Israel could not hope to retain support of even its most enthusiastic allies if it continued the 39-year-old occupation, he dramatically withdrew several thousand settlers from Gaza and pulled back Israeli troops there to 1967 borders.
When his own political party, the Likud, repudiated his decisive actions, he quit and began to create a center-right party, Kadima, that was, according to the most recent polls, likely to win one-third of the delegates in the new Knesset, and to ally with the center-left Labor party headed by a social justice crusader Amir Peretz in forming a new government.
The potential government that might have emerged would have likely been more sensitive to the social justice needs of Israelis. It might have pushed Sharon to negotiate a settlement with the Palestinian people, rather than continue to impose one along borders that Sharon had unilaterally decided upon (as he unilaterally decided to leave Gaza without making arrangements that could have given the Palestinian Authority the power to effectively challenge Hamas and other extremist groups that are currently wreaking havoc).