Ariel Sharon could have saved Israel

Sharon, whom I met once at Blair House, where he came across as genial and earthy, humorous and shrewd, was a great man. Not greatness in the sense that he had an impeccable record. Far from it. But he was a realist–tough, forceful, visionary who could chuckle to himself about the peculiarities and fascinating qualities of the land he represented.

A wise man, you could even say, whose wisdom Israel desperately misses. It was the older generation of leaders such as Sharon and Yithzak Rabin, both military men, who understood that Israel had to alter its course to ensure its survival. Which is why Sharon, who had once been a proponent of new settlements, didn’t hesitate to withdraw Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Sharon repudiated the idea that Israel’s greatness could rest in a Greater Israel. Loyalty to the idea of a Jewish state meant that it was imperative to betray the settlers he had once championed. If anyone could have delivered the further territorial concessions that are necessary for an accommodation with the Palestinians, it was Sharon. He knew that the West Bank had become an albatross for Israel, not its salvation. A new exit loomed. But his collapse in January 2006 was an unmitigated disaster for Israel, opening the path for Benjamin Netanyahu’s comeback.

Since then Israel has become increasingly isolated. It is harder to make the case for Israel, or, to put it another way, for its defenders to mount a persuasive defense.