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The Notorious Ariel Sharon

by Chris Toensing

Sharon is a man with whom the Palestinian side cannot negotiate
Ariel Sharon gained international notoriety for his provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif on September 28, 2000 in the company of 300 armed guards. He intended his visit to symbolize the absolute insistence of the Likud party and the Israeli right that the "Temple Mount" and all of Jerusalem is the exclusive domain of the state of Israel.

That belligerent denial of Palestinian and Muslim claims to Jerusalem and its holy places, combined with the harsh Israeli response to the Palestinian protests that followed his visit, helped ignite the ongoing uprising in the Occupied Territories -- a conflict that has claimed over 350 lives, all but 39 of them Palestinian.

As a continuous assertion of his intransigence on the issue of Jerusalem, Sharon maintains a residence in Jerusalem's Old City draped in an Israeli flag. But the retired army general is even more notorious among both Palestinians and Israelis for his association with war crimes and his hard-right politics. Sharon is a man with whom the Palestinian side cannot negotiate.

Sharon, 72, has been a major figure in Israeli politics for decades. In 1971, he led a systematic campaign to quell Palestinian resistance operations in Gaza through massive repression, expulsions and arrests. He retired from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1973, but was called back into service to lead the Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal during the Arab-Israeli war in October of the same year. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1974.

As defense minister in 1982, he commanded the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. An Israeli tribunal, the Kahan Commission, found Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacre by right-wing Lebanese militias of thousands of Palestinian civilians living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut. The commission found that Sharon had known of the Phalangist militias' entry into the camps, and their intent to kill Palestinians, but did nothing to stop the bloodshed, even while it was occurring. In the aftermath of Sabra and Shatila, the general was removed as defense minister but retained a role in the Cabinet as "minister without portfolio." Currently, the Barak campaign is trying to release the previously secret portions of the Kahan Commission report to the Israeli public, as a way of further exposing Sharon's complicity in the massacre.

In the early 1990s, Sharon served as housing minister and promoted a massive construction drive to increase Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 1998, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Sharon foreign minister. In the Arab world, Sharon's appointment to such a sensitive post was taken as conclusive evidence that Netanyahu had no intention of meeting Israel's obligations under the Oslo accords.

As head of Likud, Sharon has vociferously criticized the Barak government simply for negotiating with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Currently, Likud is attempting to inoculate the Israeli public against the severely flawed Clinton "peace proposals" by calling Barak a "sellout" for considering them. At a conference in Israel last week, Sharon offered the Israeli public a foretaste of what "peace proposals" he might be willing to consider as prime minister. The IDF might withdraw from 50 percent of the Occupied Territories, but certainly not to Israel's pre-1967 borders, as mandated by international law. Israel would continue to occupy the Jordan Valley, as a "buffer zone" between the Palestinian entity and allegedly hostile Jordan. Settlements, bypass roads, internal "security borders" and complete Israeli control of crossings between the PA-controlled areas and Israel would remain in place. Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees would simply not be on the table. These ideas, of course, fall far short of Barak's "generous" offer at Camp David in July -- and even that offer fell short of the bare minimum that PA negotiators could accept without losing all credibility with the Palestinian people.

Heading into the February 6, 2001, direct election for prime minister, Sharon holds a fluctuating lead over Barak in the polls. Barak's maneuver of calling early elections places the Palestinians in another quandary. The prime minister, all the while continuing military actions and border closures that kill, maim and impoverish Palestinians, is effectively threatening their leaders with the election of Sharon if they don't sign an agreement. But neither Barak nor Clinton has yet advanced a draft agreement that the PA could possibly sign. If the PA signs, the agreement will compromise basic Palestinian national rights. If the PA doesn't sign and Barak loses, Sharon may authorize an even more brutal crackdown on the uprising, and maybe the PA security forces as well. In the event that Barak somehow concludes an agreement with the PA and Sharon wins the election anyway, there will be entirely justifiable concern that Sharon -- like his Likudnik cohort Netanyahu -- will not honor Barak's agreement, however advantageous for Israel.

MERIP is a Washington DC-based think tank which specializes in news and analysis on the Middle East. Founded in 1971, MERIP is a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Washington, DC., and has no links to any religious, educational or political organizations in the US or elsewhere. MERIP produces a quarterly journal called the Middle East Report, edited by Chris Toensing

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Albion Monitor December 31, 2000 (

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