Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ariel Sharon - Israel's Lost & Forgotten Saviour?

I read in today's Independent of a sculpture of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, lying in a coma, which has been unveiled in Israel.


I can't quite believe that it has now almost been 5 years since he had the stroke that brought on this coma in January 2006. Time flies but in the middle east, sadly, some things never change.

For a fierce old right-winger, he had really raised eyebrows during his time as Prime Minister when he withdrew the Israeli military and some 8,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza. He even left his right-wing Likud Party, and boldly set-up his own Kadima Party, whilst at the top.

I recall thinking that maybe, here was a battle-scarred old leader from the Israeli right who, similar to Ian Paisley Snr in Northern Ireland, could see that a new policy of engagement with the enemy was required to benefit his own hand.

Of course, we'll never know what would've happened had Sharon have continued as Prime Minister. Would he have led Israel into the disastrous war that his successor Ehud Olmert did with the Lebanon? How would he have reacted to Hamas in Gaza?

We can't answer these questions, but under Olmert, the peace process failed to move forward. Indeed, accusations of corruption against him did nothing for his authority and Tzipi Livni took over as head of the Kadima Party at the end of 2008. She lost out to Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections in the spring of '09 and so did the hope of taking forward a Sharon-like policy in the middle east.

Benjamin Netanyahu - the new Ian Paisley?
I wondered during that closely fought Israeli election last year whether, against my better inclination, a Netanyahu victory may better focus middle eastern minds. In Northern Ireland, it took the extreme two wings of the debate to come together before a stable peace could be found. The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, brokered by the more moderate UUP and SDLP, stalled entirely within 5 years. But now, the 2007 accord agreed by bitterest rivals the DUP and Sinn Fein has ironically set Northern Ireland onto a true path for peace.

Could the Likud Party, back in goverment under a 2nd Netanyahu administration, provide a similar miracle with Fatah, and even Hamas?

Well, after 18 months, no it hasn't. Could it still? I very much doubt it.

Just days away from the 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in November 1995, middle east peace looks no closer to coming to fruition than it has since those heady days of the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Would we be any closer now to a lasting peace had Sharon not had his stroke whilst at the height of his powers? Well, we wouldn't have been any further away from it, that's for sure.

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