Lee Smith has a good summary of various reminiscences of Ariel Sharon–“one of the exemplary lives on the 20th century.” To the essential reading about Sharon, one should add David Hazony’s piece at the Jewish Daily Forward, “The Sharon They Loved, the Sharon We Hated,” and Ari Shavit’s lengthy profile published in the January 23, 2006 issue of the New Yorker, just after Sharon’s stroke.
Not all Shavit’s judgments were solid, but his reporting was reliable, because it was based on 20 hours of taped conversation with Sharon over six years, and the article provides a sort of Sharon self-portrait, since it contained extended quotations from the interviews. The answer Sharon gave when Shavit asked him if the conflict with the Palestinians would have an end is worth reading in light of the eight years that followed:
“[T]he problem at the heart of the conflict is that the Arab world does not recognize the Jews’ inherent right to have a Jewish state in the land where the Jewish people began. This is the main problem. This also applies to Egypt, with which we have a cold peace. It also applies to Jordan, with which we have a very close strategic relationship, but this is a relationship between governments, not between peoples. The problem is not 1967. The problem is the profound nonrecognition by the Arab world of Israel’s birthright. This problem will not be solved by an agreement. It will not be solved by a speech. Anyone who promises that it’s possible to end the conflict within a year or two years or three is mistaken. Anyone who promises peace now is blind to the way things are. Even after the disengagement, we will not be able to rest on our laurels. We will not be able to sit under our fig tree and our vine.
“It may be that we will never have peace,” he went on. “And it may be that it will take a great many years to have peace. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk. It’s better to talk than not to talk. It’s important to conduct negotiations. Maybe it’s possible to solve one thing or another. But it has to be understood that the conflict may never be resolved. If it is ever resolved, it will be in a very long process.”
Later in the profile, Sharon told Shavit that what bothered him about the “peaceniks” was “their hatred of the settlers and their excessive faith in the Arabs.” He believed peace depended on Palestinian reforms, not Israeli concessions:
“The greatest danger is in signing some document and believing that as a result we will have peace. This is not going to happen. . . . Instead, we have to build a process that will enable us to ascertain that indeed a change is taking place in the Arab world. It is necessary to teach all the teachers that Israel is a legitimate entity. And it is necessary to replace all the Palestinian textbooks. And this is beyond the elementary demand for the cessation of terror and the cessation of incitement and the implementation of reforms in the security organizations and the implementation of governmental reforms. It is necessary not to omit a single one of these steps. …”
Shavit concluded that if Sharon “has left a legacy, it is the need for time – lots of time – because there is no way to reach peace with one abrupt act.” It is a good lesson for New York Times reporters who think the current prime minister’s insistence on recognition of a Jewish state is an obstacle to peace, or secretaries of state who always think peace is only a peace agreement away.