An Absolute Enemy
LE MONDE | 06.01.06 • Gilles Paris
The Palestinians will regret Ariel Sharon no more than the Israelis mourned the passing of Yassir Arafat. The former general is associated in the mental universe of the Palestinians with the most darkest moments of Israel, despite the historic pullout from Gaza. The military past of Ariel Sharon accounts in large measure for this impression. From his helping hand in the events of the ‘50s to the subjugation of Gaza at the beginning of the ‘70s, Ariel Sharon holds the image of an unscrupulous and brutal military man. This negative image was reinforced by the entry into politics of the former general, who, at the age of 50, became the prime mover of colonization of Gaza and the West Bank.
Direct confrontation with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, led by Yassir Arafat, occurred with the entry of Mr. Sharon into the Israeli Ministry of Defense. It is during this period that the Lebanese adventure took place, with the goal of removing the Palestinian military presence from southern Lebanon but which transformed into the evacuation of the PLO from Beirut with the support of the international community. But it is above all the massacres at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Chatila by Christian militias under the watch of the Israeli Army that will make Ariel Sharon, whose indirect responsibility was investigated by an Israeli commission of inquest, an absolute enemy and an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Arab cartoonists to exasperation, beginning with the Palestinians
Sharon’s visit of September 23, 2000, to the Esplanade of the Mosques was seen as a new provocation. It fueled demonstrations that were repressed by the Israeli police. The next day, the al-Aqsa Intifada began. During the second Palestinian uprising, Mr. Sharon introduced an unprecedented level of violence to the Occupied Territories in which hundreds of Palestinians died. This policy of force was accompanied by a never before seen lockdown of the territories.
However, it was at the moment in which the Israeli Prime Minister expressed openly his distain for the symbol of Arafat, besieged in Ramallah, that Sharon was converted to the idea of a Palestinian state. He suggested “painful concessions”, which he said he was prepared to make. In 2004, before an assembly of delegates from Likud, Sharon evoked the term “occupation”, which set off an enormous firestorm. This transformation was supported with pragmatism by the Palestinian Authority, especially by Mahmoud Abbas, who had remained in contact with Ariel Sharon for several years before succeeding Arafat.
The overwhelming majority of Palestinian analysts and public opinion has not shifted stance. For them, the evacuation from Gaza promoted by Ariel Sharon was only subterfuges to divert international attention from the expansion of colonization on the West Bank. Contrary to Yitzhak Rabin, who joined in the Oslo peace process after having called upon the Israeli Army to “break the bones” of Palestinians during the first Intifada, the largely negative image of Ariel Sharon in the eyes of Palestinians was not changed by Oslo.