It is a measure of the man’s impact that Ariel Sharon’s passing, coming eight years after his term in office was tragically cut short, reverberated across the local media.
Commenting on the funeral services, Brian Thomson said, “his Arab opponents regarded him as a war criminal because of his failure to prevent the massacre of Palestinians during the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The leaders of the Arab world, to no one’s surprise, [are] absent from today’s memorial.” Or perhaps it is because Israel is still technically at war with more than 20 Arab countries? SBS TV “World News” (Jan. 13).
Pondering the prospects for peace if Sharon had lived, Tony Walker suggested, “it is at least possible someone of Sharon’s character and determination might have proved a more constructive participant in various peace initiatives than his successors, including incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu.” This is doubtful. In 2008, Sharon’s political heir Ehud Olmert offered the most extensive concessions for peace to date. And current PM Netanyahu was rebuffed for five years before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to even participate in peace talks. Also questionable was Walker’s claim that “Rabin’s death at the hands of an Israeli assassin in 1995 traumatised prospects of a two-state settlement.” It wasn’t the assassination but the subsequent deadly bus bombings by Hamas during the election campaign of Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, that narrowly secured Netanyahu the prime ministership with a mandate to demand an end to terror before proceeding with the peace process, Australian Financial Review (Jan. 13).
The Australian‘s editorial (Jan. 13) remarked that Sharon embodied the principle “no one should ever expect the Jewish state to be anything but uncompromisingly tough on its security and right to exist” which “Palestinian leaders too often wilfully seek to ignore.”
An AFR (Jan. 14) editorial praised Sharon for making Israel “more secure than it was, and better able to weather the new storms. That is far more than can be said about many politicians in the Middle East,” but wondered if “peace was arguably the secondary objective” in “giving away the Gaza Strip” to allow Sharon to “concentrate on the much larger, and politically far more important, West Bank.”
Charles Richardson accepted Sharon’s peace plans as sincere, suggesting that “of course there’s an argument that it was all a sham…. But that’s certainly not what the Likudniks thought at the time. Sharon was fiercely denounced across the Israeli right.” His colleague, Guy Rundle, used Sharon’s death as opportunity to offer such delusional and childish insights as “the paradox for Israel is that, having lost its role as a necessary sanctuary and homeland for Jews around the world, much of its identity comes, not despite, but because of its oppression of the Palestinians,” Crikey (Jan. 13).
Ian Birrell blamed Sharon for the Lebanon war thereby “dragg[ing] his people into a quagmire… Israel’s invincibility had ended, its image indelibly stained, and its army trapped into ill-fated occupation for nearly two decades…that… provoked the rise of Islamic militias that make any peace deal far more difficult,” Canberra Times (Jan. 14).
But as AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro noted, “the defeat of the PLO’s military arm in Lebanon and the expulsion of the organisation’s leadership to Tunisia all but eliminated the PLO’s military options, laying the foundations for the Oslo Accords the following decade.” Shapiro noted that Sharon was not “the quintessential rightwinger” he was often portrayed as, but “Israel’s first truly centrist prime minister” – citing his close relationship “with Labor icons prime minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli Defence Forces chief-of-staff Moshe Dayan” in the early days of the state, Australian (Jan. 13).
AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittelman expounded on Sharon’s establishment of the Kadima party which forged “a new Israeli consensus” and was a “centrist bloc acknowledge[ing] the necessity of a two-state peace but…with serious scepticism over the willingness and ability of the Palestinian leadership to make this a reality,” Canberra Times (Jan. 16).
John Lyons piggybacked onto Sharon’s death to promote his own ill-informed views on settlements, asking “had not Sharon’s support for settlements made US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to achieve a two-state solution almost impossible?” The irony is that it was Sharon who committed in 2004 not to establish new settlements or expand the boundaries of existing settlements (which only cover 1.1% of the West Bank anyway), a policy respected by all his successors. This has ensured that essentially the same conditions pertain on the West Bank as when the Palestinian Authority rejected Israel’s previous three offers of statehood, disproving Lyons’ attempt to portray settlements as a major obstacle to peace, Australian (Jan. 18).