SHARON, Ariel

Ariel Sharon, whose original name is Sheinerman, was born in Kfar Malal on a moshav (an agricultural settlement near T el Aviv) in 1928.  Very active in the Haganah (Jewish self-defence organization) in his early youth, he was a platoon commander during the first Arab-Israeli war. In 1952-53, he attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in History and Oriental studies. In 1953, he founded and led Unit 101, an elite unit dedicated to leading retaliatory strikes against the Palestinian fedayeen attacking Israel from Gaza and the West Bank.

During the 1956 war, he served as commander of a parachute brigade. His breach of discipline during this war angered the army command, and his advancement in the army ranks was suspended for years. In 1957-58, he studied at Camberley Staff College in the United Kingdom. During the years 1958-62, he served as commander of an infantry brigade and studied law at Tel-Aviv University. In 1962, he became Commander of the IDF armoured brigades. He was then appointed Head of Northern Command Staff in 1964 and Head of Southern Command Staff in 1969. Considering his chances slim of being appointed Chief of Staff, Sharon resigned from the army in June 1972 but was recalled to military service in the 1973 war.

In December 1973, he was elected to the Knesset on the Likud lists although he had no strong party affiliations. In 1974, he resigned his seat and left Likud to become, from 1975 to 1977, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s special security adviser.

In 1976, he formed a new party, Shlomzion, which gained two seats in the 1977 elections. This party disappeared shortly afterwards and Sharon joined Likud again, entering Menahem Begin’s government as Minister of Agriculture and Chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Settlements until 1981. Although he has never been religious, he supported the Gush Emunim movement and was thus viewed as the patron of the messianic settlers movement. He used his position to encourage the establishment of a dense network of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories and contested the possibility of return of these territories under Arab sovereignty.

Minister of Defence in the second Begin government in 1981, he masterminded Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. Under the findings of an official Commission of Inquiry (the Kahan Commission), he was held indirectly responsible for the massacres perpetrated in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila in September 1982. He resigned from his post in 1983 but remained Minister without portfolio until 1984.

In the national unity government of 1984, Shimon Peres appointed him Minister of Trade and Industry. He served in this capacity until May 1990. He then became Minister of Construction and Housing under Shamir’s government until Likud’s electoral defeat of 1992. In the Knesset, he was member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence committee from 1990 to 1992 and Chairman of the committee overseeing Jewish immigration from USSR.

In 1996, he was appointed Minister of National Infrastructure in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government – a post especially created for him – and on October 9th 1998, Minister for Foreign Affairs. His appointment placated right-wingers crucial to Netanyahu’s coalition (see Israel, Elections and Parliament). Sharon – known to be one of the most hawkish in his party – has always proposed radical schemes for « solving the Palestinian problem », like the annexation of most of the West Bank.

Following the resignation of Mr. Netanyahu as leader of the Likud after his defeat against Ehud Barak in the elections of the 17th of May 1999, Ariel Sharon was designated as interim chairman of the party. His controversial visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 is considered a deciding factor in the outburst of the second Intifada. He was elected chairman on 2 September 1999. Due to legal investigations against him, Mr Netanyahu was unable to regain his position as leader of the Likud and Mr Sharon ran for Prime Minister in the elections held on the 6th of February 2001. He won the elections with 62.5 % of the votes and became Prime Minister of Israel. Following his victory, he formed a coalition government composed of seven parties, which he presented to the Knesset on the 7th of March.

Shortly after his election, a BBC television program threw cast again on the question of his responsibility in the massacres of Sabra and Shatila. Almost simultaneously, in June 2001, a Lebanese lawyer in Belgium laid a charge against him for crimes against humanity in the name of 23 survivors from the massacre. The complaint, judged receivable by the Belgian Public Prosecutor’s Office under the universal competence law of 1993, which enables Belgian courts to judge international law crimes, was subsequently rejected by a decision of the court of accusations on the 26th of June 2002.

Then, in January 2003, the Supreme Court of Appeal cancelled the previous decision, allowing the prosecution to take place once the Prime Minister would step down from his function. Finally, due to the diplomatic embarrassment caused by this law, the new Belgian government adopted a bill in July 2003 revoking the universal competence, and the proceedings in course had to be suspended. However, this affair instigated the Prime Minister’s disquiet and anger.

Just like Rabin, Sharon is viewed as a military hero. All along his career, he nurtured a large support base among the right-wing electorate, thanks to a populist speech advocating security. Mr Sharon has the reputation of a man who, convinced of the long-lasting hostility of Palestinians and of a tragic fate holding in store for the Jews, has no limits and uses power ruthlessly. This feature was confirmed by the brutal offensive launched in the West Bank on the 29th of March 2002 in response to a series of deadly suicide attacks inside Israel, which aimed at dismantling terrorist infrastructures (destroying at the same time most civil and official structures built since the creation of the Palestinian National Authority), and at isolating the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, with whom he refuses to deal since December 2001. The siege and reoccupation of autonomous cities in the West Bank triggered strong reactions from the international community, outraged by the level of oppression suffered by the civil Palestinian population. Demonstrations erupted throughout the world, including in Tel Aviv.

Sharon is one of the most prominent advocators of settlement activity. In May 2001, he rejected the Mitchell report’s call for a freeze on Jewish settlement expansion in the Occupied Territories, which he described as a “vital national enterprise”. He owns a house flaunting a huge Israeli flag in the heart of the Muslim quarters of East Jerusalem (but he does not inhabit it), and is Israel’s wealthiest cattle farmer. In June 2002, his government adopted a plan concerning the construction of a separation fence between Israel and the West Bank. The controversial barrier, which de facto annexes large settlement blocks into the Israeli side, is currently under construction.

In October 2002, the Labour party announced its resignation from Sharon’s government in protest against loans allocated to Jewish settlement expansion, forcing Sharon to proclaim the dissolution of Parliament and to call for early elections. The election, which took place on the 28th of January 2003, resulted in a crushing victory for the Likud party with 38 seats, whereas Amran Mitzna’s Labour party only obtained 19 seats. Sharon formed a coalition government composed of the Likud, the pro-settlers National Religious Party, the secular party Shinui, and the extreme-rightist National Union.

In May 2003, Sharon endorsed the “Road Map” put together by the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN), opened the dialogue with Mahmud Abbas, and committed himself to the creation of a Palestinian state in the future. He nevertheless rejects the idea of right of return in Israel for the Palestinian refugees. Since then, the cycle of violence has only worsened and the prospects for peace seem further than ever. In April 2004, Sharon obtained support from the American President for his unilateral disengagement plan for Gaza, ensuring at the same time Bush’s backing for the preservation of the main settlements in the West Bank and for the rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees on Israeli land. In declaring that present realities on the ground would not permit a return to the 1967 borders, President Bush has implicitly legitimised the presence of settlements in the Occupied Territories, considered illegal by international law. His plan was overwhelmingly rejected by Likud members during the referendum of the 2nd of May 2004.

In October 2004, the plan of disengagement of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip sought by Ariel Sharon is endorsed by the Knesset with the support of Labour (67 votes against 45 and 7 abstentions). This is a historic decision because it was the first evacuation of settlers in 37 years of occupation of Palestinian territories.

The death of Yasser Arafat will mark a turning point for Ariel Sharon. He said he was ready to resume dialogue with the new Palestinian president, if it is for peace and prevent violence against the Hebrew state. In February 2005, Mahmoud Abbas, the new president of the Palestinian Authority and Ariel Sharon met at summit in Sharm el-Sheikh after which they formally announced the cessation of violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

On May 9, 2005, Ariel Sharon announced the withdrawal of settlements in the Gaza Strip. He will begin « immediately after 9 Ab, » the Jewish calendar date corresponding to August 14.

After the so-called « voluntary departure » for settlers from the Gaza Strip, Ariel Sharon’s army proceeded  to the forced evacuation of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. On 12 September, after 38 years of occupation and colonization of the Gaza Strip, the last Israeli soldiers leave. However, Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza remains small: the Authority does not control its borders nor its territorial waters or airspace.

In November 2005, Sharon called for the dissolution of parliament and set up his own party, Kadima. It then anticipates the elections and sets the date to March 28, 2006. The political orientation of Kadima, according to Israeli political scene, is centrist, moderate. Its slogan is « Onward! « .

In December 2005 and January 2006, Sharon undergoes two consecutive strokes and is hospitalized at Hadassah Hospital Ein Karem in Jerusalem.

On January 4, 2006,  Ariel Sharon’s doctors announced that he had suffered « a severe stroke and was placed under artificial respiration. » As a result, the Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured the interim authority in accordance with Israeli law.

Being in a deep coma, Ariel Sharon was not officially a candidate in elections on March 28, 2006 in Israel. However,his image has remained largely in Ehud Olmert ‘s campaign by , the head of Kadima.

On 28 March 2006, the party of Ariel Sharon, Kadima wins the elections with Ehud Olmert as leader. Kadima won 28 seats out of 120 that in the Knesset.

Ariel Sharon is so far still in a deep coma. Ehud Olmert announced in July 2008 his resignation as head of the Israeli government. Two members of the Kadima party (Tizpi Livni and Shaul Mofaz) wish for the presidency of the party and the post of Prime Minister of Israel. At the moment Tzipi Livni is given favorite for internal elections, but polls give Benjamin Netanyhaou, leader of Likud, winner at the post of Prime Minister.