REPENTANCE or DISSECTING SHARON
(Part 1 of 3)
by Boris Shusteff
The time is long overdue for those supporters of Israel who desperately WANTED TO BELIEVE that Ariel Sharon represents the nationalist camp to soberly reassess the situation and admit that we were wrong. It is time to acknowledge that behind the image of the "hard-line hawk" hides someone who only aligned himself with the nationalist camp because it gave him the most direct route to the reins of power.
The memorable image of Sharon from the time of the Yom Kippur War, with his head bandaged, has prevented us from seeing that he does not belong to the nationalist camp, because he lacks a nationalist ideology. We mistook his aggressiveness, ruthlessness and indefatigable energy in dealing with enemies of the Jewish state for his beliefs. We did not want to think that he could turn all these traits against his former allies, if he perceives them to be a stumbling block on the road toward his goals.
Not all, however, have been blind. Symbolically, two voices spoke up in unison, from two opposite camps, pointing out that everything that Sharon does, he does first and foremost for the sake of his own advancement. The first of these is Psychologist Vadim Rotenberg, MD, PhD who wrote an article titled "Ariel Sharon -- a Simple and Boring Story":
"I assert that the main theme of Sharon's behavior at all phases of his carrier was the achievement of success and self-affirmation. Ideological concerns were never determinative for him in contrast, for example, to Menachem Begin. Begin could make mistakes, but these mistakes were caused by his comprehension of the situation, and the motivation for him in all cases was not his personal success, but always the success of the cause he represented. From this perspective Sharon is the complete opposite to Begin. When Sharon was fighting terror... it was good for his society and facilitated Sharon's success as well. However, because it was good for Israel, by no means does this imply that Sharon's interest in his own success did not play an important, and even pivotal role. In this case there was simply no conflict between the interests of the individual and of society."
For many years Sharon's interests coincided with the interests of the Jewish state. The crossing of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War, the promotion of settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and especially the War in Lebanon (when, with the help of the leftist press Sharon was transformed, as Rotenberg puts it, "into a hero and a martyr of the right camp") convinced us that all the pieces of the puzzle had fallen into place -- Sharon became seen as a politician of the nationalist camp.
However, when Sharon became Prime minister he "found himself at the epicenter of the battle between the 'right' and the 'left' camps" and the puzzle fell apart. According to Rotenberg, Sharon, lacking ideological motives, calculated that it would best serve his interests if he aligned himself with the leftist camp. Thus he became the protector of Israeli leftist politicians guilty of shoving the Oslo accords onto Israel, and this immediately calmed the attacks on him from the leftist Israeli media. At the same time the right wing was competing in trying to figure out what secret motives were driving Sharon's obviously not right-oriented politics, while not seriously considering an alternate candidate as their leader.
The conclusion that Rotenberg derived from analyzing Sharon's behavior was the same conclusion at which the leftist Israeli journalist Uzi Benziman arrived, in his controversial biography of Sharon "Sharon, an Israeli Caesar," published in 1985. Several episodes from Sharon's life documented in the book are extremely revealing in proving that Sharon not only lacks a nationalist ideology, but that he is a foreign element in the Likud.
It is a well-known fact that Sharon was the driving force behind the creation of the Likud. His ceaseless energy brought together several right-oriented parties into a new political organization. However, our memory conveniently forgets that this happened only because the Labor party rejected Sharon. As Benziman puts it, "The Labor Party Government apparently had little respect for his skills as a military leader and, therefore, was easily willing to see him leave the army. His [Sharon's] political goal was to remove this government."
In spite of the fact that Sharon received a Revisionist education at home he was a full member of the Labor movement from his youth. Thus it is not his views or ideology that caused Sharon to side with the nationalist camp but his desire to gain power. His decision to forge an alliance of right-wing parties was a calculated one, and was based on his good understanding of Israeli politics. "He read the political map of the country well and understood that the people were looking for a serious alternative to Labor," writes Benziman.
It is interesting to note that when Sharon started negotiations with Begin, the latter suggested that he join the Liberal Party, and not his own Herut party. Since both parties were elements of the main opposition party, Gahal, Sharon followed Begin's advice. He was not concerned with differences between the parties. How prophetic seems the episode described by Benziman, in which Elimelech Rimalt, an elder statesman, presented Sharon with his membership card. Rimalt "emphasized that the membership card was not simply a piece of paper, but a symbol of one's loyalty to a particular political philosophy."
Political philosophy? At that time Sharon knew only one type of philosophy -- that of a military commander. This philosophy was dictated by a superior officer, and in accordance with it the higher the military rank of a commander, the more people followed his philosophy. Therefore, responding to Rimalt, Sharon said that he would continue to work toward the creation of a major political party that would "transform the country." As Sharon saw it, if the Likud were to become a major party everybody would follow its philosophy.
Although the Likud gained 38 seats in the Knesset, the election results "disappointed Sharon as his dream of converting the Likud into a potent political force capable of removing the Labor Alignment from power remained unfulfilled." Though he was elected to the Knesset, his whole nature rebelled against the boring routine of political life. He was "soon discovered to be an impatient politician, who held his colleagues in the parliament and in his party in complete contempt."
Disappointed by the slow pace of the democratic governing process, Sharon began looking for a way of returning to the Army. Soon after Rabin was elected Prime Minister, Sharon resumed his attempts to becoming the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, by exploiting the deteriorated relationship between Rabin and Peres. In June 1975, he was appointed as a special advisor to the Prime Minister. Although this meant that he would need to support the Labor Party, for him this was not a big problem. He "explained his willingness to cross party lines by referring to the severe defense situation and the dangers which the country faced. In practice, however, Sharon's only motivation was his personal ambition to become Chief of the General Staff."
The next two sentences from Benzman's narrative are important in understanding Sharon's ideology, or, to be more precise, lack thereof. "Sharon had long since become tired with his political activity in the Likud and he faced no particular ideological or moral problems in supporting and contributing to a government that he had so vociferously opposed until recently. Indeed, from the moment he received his appointment [in the Labor government], he stopped all criticism."
Eight months later, after realizing that he could not play any significant role in Rabin's government Sharon resigned from his post and started scheming inside the Likud, trying to convince its separate constituent parties that he and not Begin should be at the top of the Likud's list. When his attempts to usurp Begin's leadership failed, Sharon decided to cut his relations with the Likud and to establish his own political party.
(End of Part 1 of 3)
REPENTANCE or DISSECTING SHARON
(Part 2 of 3)
by Boris Shusteff
Immediately after the announcement of the creation of his own political party Sharon began his attacks on the Likud. At a press conference in Tel-Aviv he declared: "the alternative (i.e. the Likud) is no better than the ruling party!" He told the journalists present at the press conference that,
"for him a political party was only a means and not an end in itself [emphasis added]. Sharon stated that he could not believe in a political framework that has lost its basic content. If good ideas cannot be fulfilled within a given framework, it was perfectly appropriate to seek alternative means."
Knowing in retrospect that eventually Sharon would become the leader of the Likud, it is interesting to note that Sharon "assured those present that he would under no circumstances return to the Likud [emphasis added], even if his own political attempts failed."
Sharon not only promised never to return to the Likud but also accepted a "moderate political tone intended to make his party appear to have a love for peace and a willingness to make concessions in order to achieve it." He wanted to present his new party "Shlomzion" to the voters as a sturdy and respected body and therefore "negotiated with a variety of political figures, demonstrating a remarkable willingness to compromise and reformulate his political positions."
Among others, Sharon approached Yossi Sarid, a very well known left-wing politician, and asked for a meeting. He offered to Sarid the opportunity to join Shlomzion, with the guarantee of being given the second position on the party's list of candidates. Sarid asked, "How do you think we can appear on the same list while our outlooks are so different?" Sharon responded that he was convinced that the public was less concerned with foreign policy and the Arab conflict than it was with domestic and social issues. "We both seek the well-being of the people of Israel. What can be the big difference between us? -- Sharon told the incredulous Sarid."
Future Meretz leader Yossi Sarid was not the only leftist politician whom Sharon courted. He also tried to enlist the small Independent Liberal party, well known for its dovish positions. When its leader Moshe Kol asked Sharon whom he would send to negotiate, Sharon answered, "Wait and see."
The next several paragraphs from Benziman's book, which we quote here verbatim are a must read for everyone who wants to understand Sharon's readiness to part with Jewish land:
"To everyone's surprise, Amos Kenan, a famous journalist known for his extreme dovish position and advocacy for full recognition of the rights of Palestinians, appeared as Sharon's representative. When asked how he could possibly reconcile his support for Sharon with anything he believed in, he answered that they were good friends and he was convinced that Sharon could make a major impact for the good in bringing about the changes necessary for the country.
Amos Kenan's role as Sharon's liaison did not end here. Kenan was instructed by Sharon to try to arrange a meeting between Sharon and Yasser Arafat or one of his deputies. ... A meeting was tentatively scheduled to take place in Paris, but at last minute, the PLO leadership turned down this chance.
...Sharon's dovish position went so far that even Uri Avneri, the champion of a free and independent Palestinian state, was prompted to discuss his possible connection to Shlomzion."
We must pause here to allow readers to catch their breath. One can bet that not many of them knew of Sharon's flirting with Yossi Sarid and Uri Avneri, and his attempts to meet Yasser Arafat, at a time when the PLO was already considered a mortal enemy of the Jewish state.
However, Benziman's story not only reveals Sharon's lack of ideological principles but also clearly shows that the line he uses today of making "painful concessions" with the promise to "never sacrifice the security of Israeli citizens" has its predecessor. As Benziman writes, " In discussion with Kenan, Sharon agreed to the transfer of the entire West Bank to Palestinian sovereignty on condition that all security arrangements be left in the hands of Israel."
It is hard to imagine where Sharon and Israel would be today if his overtures to the leftist camp had succeeded. But, though in his negotiations with the Independent Liberals, he "did not fight for any of the key polices he had so strongly advocated at the founding of the Shlomzion party," the alliance failed. This happened because in contrast to Sharon, the leaders of the Independent Liberals cherished their positions and were concerned that "Sharon's previous declarations presented too great a risk for this old and respected party."
When his attempts to attract the well-known political blocs and figures from the left failed, Sharon changed course. "He now portrayed himself as the guardian of the extreme right wing, forever faithful to the tenets of nationalism. He preached the need to expand Jewish settlements on the West Bank and solemnly warned of impending war, certain to start 'in the coming summer or fall'. He met with the leaders of Gush Emunim "the key proponents of the idea of 'Greater Israel'" but they, perhaps knowing of Sharon's previous flirting with the leftist politicians, refused to support him officially. "In anger Sharon declared that he no longer wanted to see or hear from 'those whores.'"
Sharon became desperate, sensing that Shlomzion had very little chances of achieving anything beyond the minimum representation in the Knesset. Therefore, forgetting his previous declarations that he would never return to the Likud "he began taking steps to assure his own political future by reopening his talks with the Likud." The negotiations did not go well because the leaders of the Liberal Party earlier betrayed by Sharon adamantly opposed the inclusion of Shlomzion in the Likud list. Finally when it became clear to Sharon that the Likud would submit its list without Shlomzion, he conceded to all of the Likud's demands, meaning that "Sharon would receive the sixth position on the new Likud list and the other Shlomzion candidates would be relegated to unrealistic positions between the 47th and 51st candidates."
However, even this was not the end of the story. The leaders of the Likud managed to torpedo Sharon's final efforts at joining the party. Sharon was extremely disappointed. He told Begin, who called to let him know that he was unable to persuade his colleagues to accept Sharon: "I am more than ever convinced of the wisdom of my move to leave the Likud. Anyone who saw the ugly maneuverings of the Likud knows why it is impossible to join forces with such a party."
When the Likud won the election, while Shlomzion obtained only the minimum two mandates, Sharon called Begin to congratulate him. "Your place is with us" -- responded Begin.
The circle was complete. After promptly writing on Begin's advice "a conciliation letter to Ehrilch [the leader of the Liberal Party]" the prodigal son returned to the Likud that he had smeared so heavily. The adventure with Shlomzion was over. The party had served its purpose and was no longer needed. Benziman writes:
"Those who had joined Shlomzion as a political organization in the hope of establishing a new political party capable of change were disappointed. The warnings of those who had reported that Sharon would use people for his own personal interest and then discard them should have been heeded. They understood that the leadership of the Likud would remain within Herut and given the tenuous state of Begin's health, Sharon was preparing for the battle of succession. But there was no stopping Sharon. With the same energy and determination that he had invested in establishing the party a mere six months ago, he now set about dismantling it."
In addition to dismantling the Shlomzion party, Sharon needed to repair the damage to his image that was done while he had been courting left wing politicians. He understood very well that if he were to succeed Begin, his road to absolute power would go only through Herut. Benziman writes that Sharon needed "to become completely assimilated into Herut. He therefore began assiduously courting Herut staffers and creating the impression of being the most avid supporter of Herut's ideology."
(End of Part 2 of 3)
REPENTANCE or DISSECTING SHARON
(Part 3 of 3)
by Boris Shusteff
The main reason behind Sharon's restlessness that pushed him toward the creation and subsequent destruction of Shlomzion was his inability or unwillingness to do what he was told to do by others. During his military career, he had always made it clear that he was the only one who knew what to do and how it should be done. Nearly in all of his positions he continually and loudly challenged the orders of his commanders. He had the same problem in the civil life, as well.
Appointed in 1977 as an Agriculture Minister, and chairman of the cabinet committee on settlement, Sharon was in charge of defining and implementing the government's policy for the settlement of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, in addition to his agricultural responsibilities. He realized very quickly that the Ministry of Agriculture was futile for his ambitions. Thus he simply ignored the needs of his ministry. Benziman writes that during his tenure Sharon made only "two important decisions in the field of agriculture proper: to increase the resources devoted to the growing of flowers and the expansion of the poultry industry. Both proved catastrophic and resulted in the bankruptcy or near collapse of many farms." The reason for the failure was Sharon's "ignoring the advice of experts in the field as well as his desire to impress everyone with the grand scale of his actions."
At the same time, Sharon's grand vision was a blessing for the proponents of expanding the settlement enterprise. It would be impossible to find anyone more energetic and forceful in his actions than Sharon. Following the so-called "Sharon plan" he "initiated the establishment of as many new settlements as possible. Although most consisted of only a small handful of settlers, he saw them as the nucleus for their future development."
The nationalist camp must be eternally grateful to Sharon, because he saw the development of settlements as a "potent tool to intervene in all aspects of government policy." This was a time when Israel conducted peace negotiations with Egypt. Certainly Sharon wanted to play an important role in it. However, he was not allowed into the small group that was making the decisions, which consisted of Begin, Moshe Dayan, and later Ezer Weizman. In spite of this, Sharon found a way to be influential. He did it through settlement construction.
"Settlements were being established with no thought for their future viability and with no connection to any broad Zionist vision, but solely to enhance Sharon's own political reputation and to provide him with a means to intervene in the decision making process regarding the peace talks with Egypt."
Several times, at sensitive moments in the negotiations, Sharon initiated new settlement construction making sure that the information was leaked to the press. It happened in January and then in March 1978. But even when, in April, Begin made a change in the decision-making process in such a way that the cabinet committee on defense, rather than Sharon's committee on settlements became responsible for approving the establishment of new settlements, Sharon remained successful at forcing the government in a corner.
One of the greatest incentives for Sharon's deeds was his "competition" with Ezer Weizman. He was envious of the fact that Weizman had been chosen above him for the Defense Minister position, which he coveted. Benziman writes: "His perceived rivalry with Weizman was so extreme that it could be said that the timing behind the settlement initiatives was planned mainly to embarrass and confound Weizman at critical junctures in the peace negotiations, rather than to promote Israeli settlements on the West Bank."
Benziman makes one more point in explaining Sharon's often-unpredictable settlement policy. He brings attention to the fact that every time Sharon was removed from involvement in the peace process with Egypt, he accelerated the building of settlements. And to the contrary, each time he was brought into making decisions related to establishing peace with Egypt, his settlement activity subsided.
Certainly the best-known story is Sharon's involvement in the destruction of Yamit. After twelve days of negotiations at Camp David between the Israelis and the Egyptians, almost all issues were resolved with the exception of the Israeli settlements in northern Sinai. Begin was in an extremely difficult situation, especially because prior to his departure for Camp David he promised the settlers that under no conditions would he forsake them.
General Avraham Tamir, Sharon's former comrade-in-arms, and a member of the Israeli delegation was regularly updating Sharon on the developments. When the talks stalled, Tamir called Sharon and told him that if he were to call Begin and to tell him that he, Sharon, the champion of settlement policy would support the evacuation of settlements, this would encourage Begin to make his last concession.
The choice was Sharon's. Based on his "persistent declaration of support for the establishment of new settlements and his frequent criticism of the peace process with Egypt," one would be surprised that Tamir even made this request at all. However, apparently Tamir knew that Sharon's lack of a nationalist ideology would allow him to speak with both sides of his mouth.
Perhaps he remembered Sharon's "willingness to limit all new settlements to a mere military presence on the West Bank in his talks with Yigael Yadin in 1977" when Sharon was creating Shlomzion. Or maybe he recalled that after Nasser's death, Sharon shocked everybody with his proposal for achieving peace with Egypt.
This last episode went as follows. It happened when Sharon was appointed to be a member of a high-level team to come up with alternatives for achieving peace with the new Egyptian leader. Benziman writes,
"Sharon presented a detailed proposal under which Egypt would have complete civilian control over the entire of the Sinai Peninsula, while the Israeli army would continue to maintain military control for 15 years. During this time, each side would have the opportunity of examining the other, with the goal of shortening this period of military occupation as some measure of mutual trust was developed. Egypt would commit itself to reopening the Suez Canal and reconstructing the canal-zone cities, and Israel would withdraw its forces from the canal waterline. Sharon's proposal startled everyone on the General Staff: how could this moderation be reconciled with his belligerence toward Egypt since the Six Day War?"
The answer came very soon. The proposal that formed the basis of the General Staff's recommendation was not accepted by Prime Minister Golda Meir. For Sharon that meant that his plan was rejected, i.e. that somebody else was going to make major decisions instead of him. His reaction could have been predictable. He immediately changed course and "adopted a position completely opposite to the one he proposed to the General Staff. He now called for the rapid settlement of the eastern Sinai and for the effective annexation of this area and the Gaza strip."
Translated into plain language, Sharon was actually saying with his new approach, "If you did not like my suggestion, fine. But now I am going to make your life hell. I will do everything to undermine your plans. At the end you will understand that I was right and you will come back to me begging for help."
So now, when Tamir called him, it was the moment when they needed him. It is he, Sharon, who would make the call that would "transform the country." And Sharon called Begin and told him that "making concessions was preferable to ending talks at an impasse over the fate of the settlements." This one telephone call demonstrated, as Benziman puts it, that "his position on settlements had not been based either on emotional or ideological grounds."
It is worth remembering that Sharon continued playing his role of defender of the settlers until the very last moment. Although he told Begin that he supported the evacuation of the settlements, he voted against the peace treaty when it was brought to a vote at the Cabinet level, keeping the hopes of the settlers alive. However, when the time came for the Knesset vote he voted in favor of the treaty, and then personally directed the activities to destroy Jewish life in Yamit and all of Sinai.
Seeing today that Sharon is ready to uproot 21 settlements in the Gaza strip and four in northern Samaria, we must admit that Sharon told the truth when he said in a Haaretz's 2001 interview that he has not changed. It is exactly because he has not changed that he announced several years ago that he made a mistake by destroying Yamit. This statement allowed him to improve his position as a true right wing leader, which he maximally exploited in order to become Prime Minister. It is exactly because he has not changed that he wants to transfer the Jews out of Gaza today.
Make no mistake - there should be no doubt whatsoever that Sharon really cares about Israel's safety and wants Israel to prevail over her enemies. But that doesn't mean that he cares any less about remaining in power. It is precisely because he knows that Israel is the only superpower in the Middle East that he is ready to part with the Gaza strip. He believes that with all her military superiority and might, Israel can afford this loss. Perhaps he is not even sure himself of how far Israel will need to go with future concessions. That is not important for him right now. Today with his power base in the Likud crumbling, he desperately needs to attract the Israeli center and the left, which is why he feels that abandoning Gaza will do the trick for him.
Menachem Begin's Likud Election Platform of 1977 clearly stated: "The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable... therefore ...between the sea and Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty." Long ago Elimelech Rimalt explained to Sharon that the party membership card is a symbol of one's loyalty to a particular political philosophy. By declaring his readiness to forfeit Israel's sovereignty over parts of the land between the sea and Jordan, Sharon shows his disloyalty to the Likud.
This only proves that Sharon does not belong to the Likud, and the healthy nationalist forces within the party must direct their efforts towards demonstrating to its voters the incompatibility between Sharon and the Likud's ideology. They should make it clear that the Likud with Sharon is not Begin's Likud any more. It is either the Likud or Sharon. They cannot keep walking together.
And at the same time they should also emphasize that Sharon is not only wrong about his decision to destroy Jewish life in Gaza and Northern Samaria, but that he does not have a monopoly on the truth, which is clear from the many wrong judgments made during his long career.
Actually it is just enough to recall that on September 19, 1973 Sharon declared, "Israel now awaits a period of unparalleled quiet in terms of national security. ...In terms of our country's defense, we are now in the most advantageous position Israel has ever seen and, in fact, given the nature of our current borders, we face no security problems whatsoever..."
In two and a half weeks history proved Sharon to be completely wrong. The Yom Kippur War, the bloodiest in Israel's history, and which brought the Jewish state to the verge of destruction started on October 6, 1973.
Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies