by Jeanette Friedman, lifestyles, 1993
For 48 years, Ariel “Arik” Sharon has fought for peace, often alone, and he
will not stop.
I’m willing to bet that since September, Ariel Sharon hasn’t let go of his
maps. He’s been toting them around in an old paper bag for years. Insiders at
the Israeli Embassy say he carries them around to the most unusual places,
including the Pentagon, in case of a “map emergency.” And if ever there
was a “map emergency.” the signing of the accords between Israel and the
Palestinians is it. Over at Likud, and other places in Israel and America, alarm
bells are ringing. And Sharon is walking around with his maps, trying once
and for all to prove his point.
When we met, Sharon was in New York to push his pet project — Ateret Cohanim —
in the Old City of Jerusalem. There, he and others have bought homes in the
old Jewish quarter, which is now a predominantly Arab neighborhood. The
philosophy is simple: don’t kill them, don’t oppress them, buy them out and keep
the deeds. We first connected when he made his pitch to a well-heeled crowd at
Fran and Simon Laufer’s home in New York City.
We met at his hotel room on a cool, clear day. The view from his sitting
room overlooked all of Central Park, Long Island Sound and the Ramapo Mountains.
In the distance, you could see the Hudson River snaking toward Bear
Revered and reviled, Ariel Sharon has suffered for love of country,
personally, professionally and politically. His life and the history — and the land — of
Israel arc intertwined. each having a lasting effect on the other. No matter
what side of the fence you are on — Labor or Likud, Peace Now or a member of a
religious party. Ariel “Arik” Sharon’s dedication and love for Israel
He is also consistent. The philosophy and views he expressed in our
interview echoed what he had written years before in his 1988 book, Warrior. His
point of view didn’t change after the letter of mutual recognition was signed by
the Israelis and Palestinians in Washington, D.C. early in September. Our
conversation anticipated events, and a close reading of his maps, together with
material in his books, shows that Sharon wants a negotiated peace. He even
planned for it.
But the recognition of Yasir Arafat, head of the Palestinian Liberation
Organization, as chief negotiator for the Palestinians has left him livid. And it’s not the first time. Sharon’s plans often have gone awry and not always by
his own hand. Usually it was a commanding officer, miles from the field of
battle, who called shots that needlessly cost Jewish lives, leaving Sharon
frustrated, furious and the scapegoat. Often politicians, like Golda Meir or
Yitzhak Rabin, would thwart his every move.
Fed up with the lack of organized opposition to the Labor party, where he
was deeply rooted and with whom he had disagreed too many times, he helped
create the Likud in 1973. His uneasy alliance with Menachem Begin began when
Moshe Dayan and other political military types tried to throw him out of the
army. When the headlines screamed about a possible Begin/Sharon political
alliance, the Labor government’s military allies sent “Arik” on a world tour until
after the elections in 1973. Four years later, Likud’s victory in the
polls unseated Labor for the first time in 29 years, and as Sharon says, “marked the emergence of Israel as a bona fide two-party state.”
A legendary soldier — he spent 28 years in the military and another 20 years
as a politician — Sharon has been left for dead on the battlefield of war and
also on the more personally vicious battlefield of politics. He is his own man,
and walks his own paths.
And Sharon has walked the entire territory occupied by Israel after the
Six Day War many times. As a matter of principle, he believes you should be
100 percent familiar with your terrain—in case you need to defend it. Right
after the war in 1967. he put Israeli military schools in old Jordanian army
posts and began developing the basics of a settlement plan for Yitzhak
Four months after the Likud victory in 1977, he presented that plan to
the new cabinet. History had convinced him that “basic intelligence dictates
that we act purely on the basis of our own needs. That did not mean that some
kind of political accommodation [with the Palestinians] was completely
out of the question, but it did mean that first and last we would look to our
Sharon advocates building a line of urban, industrial settlements on
the ridges overlooking the coastal plain and the plain of the Jordan River, in
addition to a line of settlements along the Jordan from Beit Shean to the
Dead Sea. What Sharon and his people looked for as they climbed through the
hills, day after day, was high, important terrain and vital road junctions. They
were making their maps and built the settlements, the “facts on the ground”
of Israel’s security in the “territories.” And wherever settlements were
built, water and electricity were offered to nearby Arab villages.
Sharon, a realist, has known since he was a child that Israel needs to make
peace with the Arabs. He doesn’t claim to know all the answers, but he does
know that any national solution for peace needs to be grounded in the Israeli
Declaration of Independence. And Sharon, more than anyone, is aware of
the dangers inherent in peace.
"I see danger,” Arik Sharon tells me. “Danger. I brought myself to the United
States on a mission. One danger is the pressure upon Israel to withdraw
from the Golan, which would be a disastrous thing, and another is the pressure
to withdraw from Judea and Samaria. Still another is pressure to accept
all those solutions that would bring us back to the pre-’67 borders.
“But there is an even greater danger. Do you know that except for two small
countries in Central America, no one, including the great, friendly democracy
of the United States, has ever recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of
the State of Israel? So Jerusalem is at stake now. And I am here to
mobilize the necessary means to strengthen the Jewish community living in the
Old City, which is the heart of the Jews, the heart of the state and the
heart of the problem.”
As of early September, Arik’s problem went deeper than that. After Rabin
recognized Yasir Arafat, Arik went on Israeli TV and told the media that Arafat
should not have been the designated representative of the P.L.O. “Yasir
Arafat belongs in a glass cage in a courtroom in Jerusalem, where he should be
tried as a war criminal,” he announced.
As protesters in Jerusalem crowded around a vehicle approaching the prime
minister’s office, screaming for Rabin’s blood, the mood changed abruptly when
the door opened, and Arik’s paunchy figure was spotted. The adoring crowd
surged forward. “Arik, Arik, our father,” they yelled.
I wasn’t at all surprised. At the very start of our interview months
earlier, I had asked him if Yasir Arafat could be considered a moderate when
stacked against the likes of Hamas, the organization responsible for the
current wave of terrorism and violence in the territories and Gaza.
“I think you make a major mistake if you think Arafat is a moderate,” he
said. “Between 65-75 percent of all the terrorist activities taking place
now are by Fatah, which is the P.L.O. directly under the command of Arafat,
in the West Bank, in Gaza, and also, recently, on the Lebanese front. They are
working with Hezbollah.
“Therefore, any attempt to describe Arafat as a moderate is wrong. He
has more Jewish blood on his hands than anyone since Hitler. He should be
removed from our society altogether. This is not a man with whom you can
negotiate. You cannot expect anything from him.”
Would he agree that the P.L.O. has more to gain from peace talks than does
“I think you are wrong about that,” he says. “Things should be judged by
action and not by words. I don’t see any difference whatsoever between the
goals and intentions of the P.L.O. and the goals and intentions of Hamas. There
is one target. Jews. Kill Jews. Destroy the State of Israel. There is no
“You don’t feel,” I asked, “that the P.L.O. has agreed to recognize Israel
and that the peace negotiations mean anything?”
“There is nothing to do between the P.L.O. and peace. The P.L.O. has always
been an obstacle to peace and it is an obstacle to peace now.”
“So what’s the point?” I want to know. “Is it to sit with Syria and Jordan
and get treaties from them?”
“I can tell you how I see it,” Sharon says. “According to the current
logic, the negotiations will never lead to peace. We should be going
about it differently and deal with an entirely different set of issues on a much
wider scope and with more serious problems than we’re dealing with now.
“The conflict is wider than Israelis and Palestinians. The major problem is
that there is no will, whatsoever, among the Arab nations to reconcile with
Israel. That is the basic thing. They use different tactics to distract us,
but the strategy is the same. To understand what I mean you have to read
the Arab press, especially the Egyptian press.
“The Egyptians have been at peace with us for 14 years, yet nowhere has
there ever been an acceptance of Israel’s existence. I am reminded of Habib
Bourguiba, president of Tunisia in the ’60s. He was a very clever Arab leader who
told the other Arabs that they will never defeat Israel militarily—that
Israel should be worn down slowly.” “What weapon are they supposed to use?” I
asked. “Public relations. It’s a media war, and they have managed to
paint the EL.O. as peaceful. Under the title of conciliation they have managed
to paint Israel as a country against peace. That put pressure on Israel and
caused an internal split. Divided we fall, just as that Arab predicted.”
One of the other major problems is the amount of military hardware being
sold to the Arabs by the United States, the states of the former Soviet
Union, Korea, China and Europe. Sharon gives me a long list of materiel
including SCUDS, the Syrian tank count (more than 5,000), how many surface-to-surface
missiles there are and the distance they can cover. All of them can reach
Tel Aviv, no problem. Sharon can also supply the list for Egypt and tells me, “They are working like mad on nuclear weapons.”
And then he addresses the question of Arab terror. “Forget about borders. We
have been dealing with Arab terrorism for more than 120 years. My
grandfather and father faced Arab terror, so have I and so do my sons.”
Sharon was born
in the Galil in 1928. His parents were ardent Zionists who gave everything
up to scratch out an existence in a moshav (farming settlement).
“Terrorism causes wars because when we cannot protect our citizens, we
retaliate. Then there’s counter-retaliation and the cycle of violence escalates.
Add to that the lethal personalities of the Arab dictators who are so hard to
deter. They don’t care about the future. So if they kill off 250,000 of their
own people, they get away with it.
“Now diplomats can do great things. Talking brought down the Iron Curtain
and talking is building bridges to China. But how do you talk to a psychopath?
Two or three bombs in Saddam Hussein’s hands or in some Ayatollah’s arsenal
are more dangerous than 300,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S.”
I ask if there is a difference between psychopathic totalitarianism,
religious fanaticism and political hatred.
“Put them together. There is no difference in their brutality, not in
the goals and names, not when it comes to Jews.
“Look. Faisal Husseini is considered a hero. He was nominated by Arafat to
be in charge of the military arm of the P.L.O. and the Fatah organization in
Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He is the man behind the killings now. And one of
Israel’s major mistakes is to try to draw distinctions. We have to remember that
in 1987, the then minister of defense thought it might be suitable to help
the Hamas organization, dreaming that they would fight the P.L.O. terrorists,
because in those days, the RL.O. was the threat.
“Today they are making concessions to the P.L.O. terrorist
organization, they are helping again—not the terrorist squads, but the P.L.O., in the
hope they will fight Hamas. You know what happens next? They will fight us
together. Recently we found evidence of combined squads in Lebanon and in Gaza. To
think for a moment that we will gain anything out of this shows a deep lack
of understanding of, and a wrong evaluation of, the situation in the Middle
Weeks later, after Rabin and Arafat shook hands in Washington, Sharon made
the same point, only stronger. He wrote in The Jerusalem Post: “By reviving
Israel’s greatest enemy on the eve of its disintegration and turning it into
Israel’s shield against Hamas, the government has added crime to folly.”
In our conversation, he added another ingredient to the lethal mix, the
problem of the Palestinian refugees. Unlike Israel, which absorbed millions of
refugees from Europe and the Arab countries, the Arab countries have never
absorbed the Palestinians who remained in the camps. “It is an open wound, and
until you deal with it, you can sign all the peace agreements you want, and
nothing will help,” Sharon said.
So what would be Sharon’s conditions for a peace agreement?
“Call a moratorium on arms sales immediately. That’s first. That’s the
simplest thing. Then enter into arms reduction treaties and equalize
military strength throughout the region. In order to eliminate the terrorists, every
Arab country has to agree to dismantle, eliminate, deport or arrest
those engaged in the business of terror. Dismantle all the offices of terrorist
organizations operating in their cities. If any Arab country wants to become
part of the process, we should tell them, ‘You want to negotiate? Stop
terrorism.’ If Syria wants to sit at the table, let them stop the Hezbollah from
operating in the Baalbek region, where they’ve been active since January 1976.”
What about the MIAs? Shouldn’t they be part of the package?
“That’s a terrible problem. Unquestionably, that should be part of the
deal, but these are very sensitive issues and we cannot discuss them. In the
meantime, terrorists are training in the Sinai near the Suez Canal, in Amman,
Jordan, in Syria and Lebanon. So, first, stop harboring and training terrorists,
then solve the refugee problem. Especially those 350,000 Palestinians who
were ejected from Kuwait during the Gulf War and are rotting in the Jordanian
desert in deplorable conditions.”
Say those criteria are agreed to, everything is moving right along, and then
King Hussein of Jordan dies from cancer. Then what do you do?
“Now we come to what I think is the solution,” he responds. “There is a
Palestinian state and maybe we should look at the map for a minute. I brought it
with me to Washington back in 1982 to try to solve some problems.”
Sharon pulls out a worn map that indicates the former borders, first
demarcated by the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and shows me how 75 percent of that
area was lost during the War of Independence, which is the first war Sharon
fought in. [He was just 17.]
“In 1948, all the Arab countries invaded Israel. You know people say ‘occupied territory.’ Who occupied what? They occupied us. Gaza occupied? It was
occupied by the Egyptians! That terrible war cost us 1 percent of our
population. The Egyptians were stopped 27 kilometers from Tel Aviv. That
situation lasted for 19 years, and included the loss of the Old City.
“Then came 1967. We asked Jordan to stay out of it. But they didn’t, and so
we came back to this border. Jordan is the Palestinian state. Its
inhabitants are Palestinian.
“For 15 years I have tried to convince my own government of this fact.
Peace should only be negotiated with the Palestinian state that exists:
Jordan. There are many issues to deal with, like who gets passports, how
taxes are paid, how local governments are administered, how elections will
be held. There are many things to be discussed, but they should only be
discussed with Jordan.
“The country is making a major mistake because it is not pursuing the
autonomy Mr. Begin talked about. There’s nothing to compare, because this autonomy
is an entirely different thing. Thinking that autonomy is going to be
the answer to every pain and problem is wrong.”
Sharon pulled out another map and showed me how he had laid out the
settlements. They ran together to form bridges, or corridors across the West Bank and
through Gaza. The Arab villages are broken up—surrounded, so to speak—so
that there is no continuity or bridges between them. They would become cantons.
According to Sharon, the Jewish settlements under development should never,
ever come under any Arab control.
Again I ask what happens if King Hussein dies in a few years, and again he
avoids answering, telling me that he hopes the King will live a full life. “
Okay, what happens wen one Arab leader is replaced by another? Say someone
kills Saddam Hussein or Assad?
“That proves you have to be very, very careful about the steps you take.
Today there is one lunatic. Tomorrow there can be another. Former Secretary of
Defense Richard Cheney said something at a NATO conference years ago. ‘It’s
not what your enemy says, and it is not what his intentions are. What is
really important is only one thing and that is your enemy’s capabilities.’
That’s why we first have to deal with the Middle East arms race. It doesn’t
matter who says what or what their intentions are. It’s their stockpiles that
“And as for King Hussein, I have great respect for him because he managed to
survive in political life for 40 years. I only lasted 20, so I can
appreciate him. When he goes, maybe his family will take over or maybe the
Palestinians will. Who knows?”
After September’s signing of the letter of mutual recognition, Sharon
protests the participation of Arabs from East Jerusalem in the elections,
seeing it as a basic erosion in the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The government has agreed to the return of the 1967 refugees. Sharon is
convinced that hundreds of thousands of Arabs flooding into the territories will
escalate terrorism and deepen hostility.
Autonomy should not affect areas settled by Jews, he says. It should not be
effective in the corridors and bridges that link the Mediterranean with
the Jordan Valley and conditions and terms should be laid down before
autonomy is granted.
And what is his message to the confused Jews of the Diaspora?
“First of all, stay Jews. Stick to Judaism. Learn the Bible, learn the
history of the land and the people. Then move to Israel. Send your children there.
Anti-Semitism is spreading like fire around the world. And until you get
there, back Israel politically. Invest in Israel.
“I came to America to strengthen the small Jewish community that lives
within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. When you walk in the narrow
streets and see the holes where the mezuzahs once were, and you see the places
where they have changed the doorposts so you can see that they’re hiding
Jewish places, you will understand the fragility of our security.
“We need to be strong within the walls and in the City of David, the place
where all our stories began, more than 3,000 years ago. We need to survive.”
Right now, Ariel Sharon may feel like he’s fighting alone. But as Sidney
Zion, a veteran New York journalist noted, it isn’t the first time, and it’s
probably not the last.
from the February 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine