Jan 14th 2014

Sharon’s Legacy

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

People around the world have passed judgment on the life of Israel’s most controversial leader that runs the gamut from utter and deep admiration for his uncompromising devotion to Israel’s security and wellbeing while others, especially the Palestinians, reviled him for being cruel, morally corrupt and a war criminal.

I doubt that history will render a judgment that supports with no reservation one or the other characterization of this unique individual. As for me, he was a leader’s leader who demonstrated the vision, courage and commitment to what he believed in–qualities that are sorely lacking on the global stage today and especially in the Middle East.

Yes, he had on a number of occasions demonstrated poor judgment that caused great grief and losses to many Palestinians. I can say, however, with no reservation that he had no malice in his heart but that his overzealousness obscured, at times, his better judgment about what was right or what was wrong.

Perhaps the best way to survey Sharon’s life is to look as his unique characteristics and the imprint he left behind which will have a lasting impact for generations to come.

Visionary:

He was a hardcore ideologue who believed in Israel’s right to occupy all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. But when he concluded in 2004 that the only way to preserve Israel as a democracy and its Jewish national identity, he acted and withdrew all Israeli settlers and military personnel from Gaza with the intention of withdrawing from much of the West Bank.

Leadership:

Sharon exuded unmatched leadership qualities both as a soldier and as a political leader. When he was required to fight as a soldier he stood in the forefront and was never fazed by any danger. As a politician, he never hesitated to make the most sensitive political decisions to change course and seek a two-state solution, overriding the objections of many in his cabinet including Netanyahu who served as his finance minister at the time.

Courageous:

Sharon’s courage was exemplary in leading his troops or his government–he always stuck to the motto that a commitment to achieve anything requires corresponding courage, especially when it appears that all odds are against you. Once he decided to bulldoze ahead with his plan to evacuate Gaza, he never feared the threats to his life from extremist settlers, especially when the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was still fresh in the mind of the Israelis.

Statesman:

Sharon, who suffered several failures, understood that true statesmanship is not only a product of successive successes but also the lessons learned from failures. Realizing that occupation is not sustainable, Sharon had little compunctions to propose a final peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Brilliant military strategist:

Although Sharon was the soldier’s soldier and demonstrated from his early career that he was a superb military strategist, he will be remembered in the military annals as one of the greatest. In the 1973 war against Egypt, after Israel’s initial retreat he commanded 27,000 Israelis in a drive across Egypt’s Suez Canal that helped turn the tide of the war, and was poised to crush the Egyptian Third Army had he not been prevented by the US.

Relentless:

Sharon’s deep convictions about what was best for Israel made him one of the most relentless leaders who never succumbed to failure or circumstances. He was a warrior both in his military and political life. He pursued his goals with zeal by chasing terrorists across enemy lines or changing political course when his party did not go along with him to seek rapprochement with the Palestinians.

Deep ideologue:

Sharon was an uncompromising ideologue; not only did he believe that the Jews have every right to reside in their ancient homeland, he also openly advocated grabbing every inch of Palestinian land to realize the Jews’ historic right. He came to be known as the father of the settlements and the architect of building a barrier of fences and walls to separate Israel from the West Bank.

Pragmatist:

Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, who served as Sharon’s deputy, put it best when he said“He [Sharon] was a smart and realistic person and understood well that there is a limit in our ability to conduct wars.” Sharon believed that a practical, realizable solution must be found regardless of Israel’s military prowess.

Focused:

Sharon’s many setbacks did not sway him from his ultimate goal to serve his beloved country in any way possible. After his setback in the 1982 Lebanon War he began a process of self-rehabilitation, serving in parliament and in a number of Cabinet posts while endearing himself in the eyes of the settlers. He ended this period by achieving a landslide victory in 2001, which bestowed on him the premiership.

Dismissive:

In many ways, Sharon was dismissive of his opponents, especially when he was convinced of the correctness of his moves. In late 2003, he unveiled his “unilateral disengagement” regardless of what his political opponents had to say and without prior consultation and an agreement with the Palestinians.

Bold:

Probably the best way to describe Sharon’s excessive confidence and his boldness is his engineering of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 while portraying it as a limited campaign to rout Palestinian terrorists infiltrating from Southern Lebanon. Sharon reached the outskirts of Beirut, which was seen by many Israelis as a bold and daring military move that could lead, as Sharon envisioned, to the establishment of a pro-Israel regime in Lebanon. This military adventure, however, ended up in a major debacle which kept Israeli forces in Lebanon for 18 years and most likely precipitated the rise of Hezbollah.

Defiant:

Sharon’s defiance may be described by his provocative visit to the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, the 3rd holiest site in Islam. This incident was followed by Palestinian riots which escalated into a full-fledged uprising. Whether or not the Palestinians had planned this in advance, the visit provided the impetus. This second Intifada (uprising) claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, and laid much of the West Bank in ruin.

Sharon’s death in my view leaves a legacy that the Israelis and the Palestinians would do well to remember: Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is a fact of life, and time and circumstances will change little other than to inflict more pain and suffering, and further deepen the hatred and animosity that will continue to poison one generation after another.

Sharon came to this realization and made a historic turn. He had the vision, courage, leadership and wisdom to act.

It is a historic irony that the two leaders who reached out to the Palestinians, Rabin and Sharon, who both took concrete steps for peace, were struck down before they could accomplish their goal. A true leader must fear no death, because the future of their people and their destiny demands and deserves the highest sacrifices.



My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel



NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW ANDTHE ECONOMIST • WINNER OF THE NATAN BOOK AWARD • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

An authoritative and deeply personal narrative history of the State of Israel, by one of the most influential journalists writing about the Middle East today

 
Not since Thomas L. Friedman’s groundbreaking From Beirut to Jerusalem has a book captured the essence and the beating heart of the Middle East as keenly and dynamically as My Promised Land. Facing unprecedented internal and external pressures, Israel today is at a moment of existential crisis. Ari Shavit draws on interviews, historical documents, private diaries, and letters, as well as his own family’s story, illuminating the pivotal moments of the Zionist century to tell a riveting narrative that is larger than the sum of its parts: both personal and national, both deeply human and of profound historical dimension.
 
We meet Shavit’s great-grandfather, a British Zionist who in 1897 visited the Holy Land on a Thomas Cook tour and understood that it was the way of the future for his people; the idealist young farmer who bought land from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s to grow the Jaffa oranges that would create Palestine’s booming economy; the visionary youth group leader who, in the 1940s, transformed Masada from the neglected ruins of an extremist sect into a powerful symbol for Zionism; the Palestinian who as a young man in 1948 was driven with his family from his home during the expulsion from Lydda; the immigrant orphans of Europe’s Holocaust, who took on menial work and focused on raising their children to become the leaders of the new state; the pragmatic engineer who was instrumental in developing Israel’s nuclear program in the 1960s, in the only interview he ever gave; the zealous religious Zionists who started the settler movement in the 1970s; the dot-com entrepreneurs and young men and women behind Tel-Aviv’s booming club scene; and today’s architects of Israel’s foreign policy with Iran, whose nuclear threat looms ominously over the tiny country.
 
As it examines the complexities and contradictions of the Israeli condition, My Promised Land asks difficult but important questions: Why did Israel come to be? How did it come to be? Can Israel survive? Culminating with an analysis of the issues and threats that Israel is currently facing, My Promised Landuses the defining events of the past to shed new light on the present. The result is a landmark portrait of a small, vibrant country living on the edge, whose identity and presence play a crucial role in today’s global political landscape.
 
Praise for My Promised Land

“[A] must-read book . . . [My Promised Land] is a real contribution to changing the conversation about Israel and building a healthier relationship with it. Before their next 90-minute phone call, both Barack and Bibi should read it.”—Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times
 
“The most extraordinary book that I’ve read on [Israel] since Amos Elon’s book called The Israelis,and that was published in the late sixties.”—David Remnick, on Charlie Rose
 
“Israel is not a proposition, it is a country. Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews’ history. . . . It is one of the achievements of Ari Shavit’s important and powerful book to recover [that] feeling.”—Leon Wieseltier, The New York Times Book Review




Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."