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Future of Israel

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Sharon leaves a gaping hole in Israeli politics. At the end, the "farmer-general" from 1948 offered a Rabin-like blend of military toughness and diplomatic agility, reinforced by his solid if not warm relationship with George W. Bush.

Unlike Rabin or any other politician of his time, however, Sharon boldly manipulated Israeli politics and Israeli politicians. These, like the settlements he planted and those he uprooted, were instruments to achieve objectives. They could be deployed or redeployed, as necessary, notwithstanding the pain.

Despite his reputation for ruthlessness, Sharon was no stranger to personal suffering. A firearms accident in 1967 claimed a son. A first wife was killed in an automobile accident; his beloved second wife Lilly died of cancer in 2000, unable to share his triumph. At the end of his career, another son Omri, who was his agent in politics and business, got caught in a political scandal that touched Sharon himself.

It was said of Sharon that he kept his cards so close to his chest even he could not always see them. But the former general was not a shameless chameleon who merely changed with the crisis du jour. His secrets were disguised in plain sight. A proud Jew, his identity derived from a Zionism that was sometimes mystical, sometimes biblical, sometimes historical but always informed by confidence in the unique destiny of the Jewish people in their land. The task therefore was to secure as much of the country as possible for as many Jews as possible, bounded by prudence, including demographic prudence, and necessary international alliances. Sharon had grown less impetuous with age and wisdom but once conditions were right, no less imperious in pursuing these objectives.

Although Sharon often said that Israel's war for independence had never ended, and might not ever end, he had seen in his own time Israel's astonishing growth. He would have used military strength, political initiative, and the American alliance to imprint on a permanent Israeli map the three settlement blocs, an Israeli-controlled Old City of Jerusalem, the Jordan River security zone, limitations on Palestinian sovereignty, and no Palestinian right of return.

Sharon had come to embody the hopes and views of most Israelis. He, like they, had hoped that after 1967, the Land of Israel would never be partitioned again. No one had worked harder to avoid it. But the safety of the Jewish State now demanded it and from that task Sharon would never shrink.

Other politicians will maneuver for Sharon's mantle and they will have to meet his standard. On December 7, 2005, commemorating David Ben Gurion, Sharon surely had himself in mind when he said that "the public's trust is given to a leader in order to lead, determine clear goals and make difficult decisions." That would be Sharon's ultimate legacy.



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