A Controversial Figure

On January 4, 2006, millions were stunned to hear the news of the massive stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Stories emerged from Israel of the extensive measures being taken to save the life of one of the few titans of Israeli and Middle Eastern politics. So far however, the only information on his final condition given to the press has been that he will likely suffer some cognitive impairment and might be paralyzed. The legacy Ariel Sharon left on Middle Eastern politics has been one of heated emotions and mixed results to the say least. His actions have been both praised and abhorred by most of the international community. He will be remembered by Israelis as one of the nation’s strongest and most uncompromising rulers. who took whatever actions he deemed necessary. He violated direct orders during his tenure in the Israeli Defense Forces to spearhead Israeli victories against much larger opponents in multiple wars. And more recently he unilaterally dismantled settlements in the disputed territories, coming face to face with the denizens of his own right wing party. Arabs will remember for many of his controversial actions. His most controversial and haunting action was during the Lebanese Civil War, when he permitted Phalangist militiamen, armed and protected by his own forces, to slaughter as many as 3,500 people, many of whom were innocent civilians. The Sabra and Shatilla massacres have largely affected Arab relations with Israel, fueling the long-standing animosity between the two groups. His longstanding personal feud with fallen Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, was another tenet of his leadership. Many thought that a lasting peace was impossible. Examining the Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations now, many wonder what will change. With the formation of Sharon’s Kadima Party, it is a mystery who will emerge from the March 28th elections as the next Israeli Prime Minister. Without Sharon, his new party has no candidate, while both the Labor and Likud candidates are relatively strong. It is a troubling prospect for many Arabs however. While there is an almost undisputed despise for the fallen leader, it is also believed that the Likud candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be extremely uncompromising and more brutal. His history of heavy-handed tactics and indefinite delays in implementing parts of the Oslo Accords during his term as Prime Minister from 1996-1999 leave much to be desired. Sharon’s absence from Middle Eastern politics, presents a chance for a lasting peace. Sharon’s tactics, methods, and ideas were brutal and conservative to achieve a sustainable peace. The next Israeli Prime Minister should be open to the establishment of a new state. Sharon’s tactics of constantly crippling the Palestinian Authority have done little to benefit the peace process. They have done nothing more than prevented the Palestinians from confronting militant organizations. The next leader should also make attempts to extend an olive branch to other Arab states in the region. Peace with neighbors and a starting trade are excellent ways to help reduce the tension in the region and stabilize other governments whose collapse would be utterly devastating. For its part, the United States should also change its Middle Eastern policy. The US should make a real effort to establish a stable Palestinian Authority, and if necessary, request that a UN Peacekeeping mission be deployed to the area. Our government should encourage Israeli troops to leave Palestinian territory and push for more settlements to be dismantled. Nothing can change without the full backing of the US and opportunities this great do not present themselves frequently. Some will celebrate the passing of one of the strongest Israeli political symbols. Others will mourn. The future will be brighter if a more moderate and compromising government emerges, but a return to quagmire and violence is likely with Netanyahu. Only time will tell, but regardless of the outcome in the elections, the face of Middle Eastern politics will be significantly changed with the passing of one of its strongmen.