Earlier this week it was reported that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opened his eyes for the first time since his recent disabling stroke. While expectations for even a partial recovery for the respected, charismatic statesman are dim, Sharon was prudent enough to open his eyes — and his mind — about his nation’s predicament last year when he called for the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, a tract of land gained following the triumphant 1967 Middle East War.
After years of engineering policies to thwart a Palestinian state, Sharon, who’s been a forceful presence in Israel for decades, apparently came to the conclusion that continuous retribution against Palestinian aggression merely resulted in limitless warfare and set aside his longstanding hawkish outlook. To that end — and with persuasive nudging from the Bush Administration — the statesman created a new political party and subsequently ordered the removal of the settlements, a key concession for which the Palestinians insisted. The decision was undoubtedly a painful sacrifice and greeted with some opposition, though a majority of Israelis, apparently drained and frustrated by living in a constant state of fear, surprisingly supported the plan.
At the time he defended the strategy, Sharon said, “It is out of strength, not weakness, that we are taking this step…The responsibility for the future of Israel rests on my shoulders.”
Now that’s a leader who knows how to do what’s best for the future of his nation, rather than follow his personal interests!
The Bush Administration would be wise to heed the advice for peaceful coexistence it gave to Sharon and consider the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as soon as possible.
Anyone familiar with Israel’s brief history and geography knows it’s entirely unlike that of the United States. Since it became an independent nation in 1948, Israel has had to perpetually defend itself against neighboring enemies. The U.S. has not faced that kind of circumstance since it defeated Mexico in the 19th century. Nonetheless, Israel has managed to defeat its enemies in several major conflicts, but left to suffer considerable death and destruction over time.
When America got two terrible doses of terrorism in New York City in less than a decade, it was obligated to establish necessary — and questionable — changes to insure its safety, thus getting a taste of what Israel has endured for more than half a century.
Now it is time for the U.S. to follow Israel’s gamble and seek a prudent, sensible strategy for ending its unnecessary, unprovoked entanglement in Iraq. Besides, with the nuclear situation in Iran escalating into a major international crisis — and with Israel in its cross hairs — the U.S. must not react irrationally again or the consequences could be globally grave.
It is unlikely that Ariel Sharon will ever be healthy enough to lead Israel again. Nevertheless, long before he was stricken Sharon realized that Israel’s survival and self-interests were more essential than territorial sovereignty that sustained an atmosphere of perpetual hatred and struggle. It remains to be seen if anyone who succeeds him will ever receive the same respect and authority he earned. More significantly, it will be interesting to see if the Palestinian Authority honors the agreement for a commitment to non-belligerence that the Israeli prime minister brokered.
Yet, whatever the outcome, Ariel Sharon should be remembered as a warrior, once called “the Butcher” by some enemies, who became a shepherd who followed his vision to lead his nation down the jagged path to practical and permanent peace.