In abstract legal terms, the Israeli military and political leader Ariel Sharon is very much a "war criminal" in Arab politics and rights quarters.
Sharon was a military man who joined the Israeli success wars against Palestinians and other Arabs from 1948 until he went into a deep coma in January 2006, which lasted until his death this month. It's impossible to separate his name from astounding crimes such as the 1982 massacre of thousands at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, or the construction of what the International Court of Justice in the Hague qualified as the ‘racist’ separation wall in the heart of occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank.
The name of Sharon is of course ever so closely associated with the cold-blooded killing of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula during the 1967 War and his violation of the infra-structure in Sinai upon the Israeli withdrawal following the 1973 War and subsequent Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
“There are so many horrid stories that can be narrated in association with the name of Ariel Sharon, but the story that cannot be missed and should not be missed is that he is the one who designed the slow and gradual death of the Palestinian cause,” said a Middle Eastern affairs Egyptian diplomat.
According to this diplomat, as well as others from Egypt and Palestine, Sharon did not care about peace and he made it clear.
“Sharon was in many ways unlike other Israeli leaders who liked to sing the song of peace and walk the walk of war," said a Palestinian diplomat. "Sharon talked the talk of war and walked the walk of war – with no hesitation and no shame. Talks that involved him included an open threat of using Israeli force. This he did in the presence of Americans and Palestinians and with much ease.
The Palestinian diplomat told of his first trip to Israel with Amr Moussa, then Egypt's foreign minister, to attend the opening of the Shimon Peres Peace Center in October, 1998. He related how he was not thinking of the heated talks that Moussa was likely to have with Sharon, then Israel's foreign minister – the situation seemed hopeless. Instead, he was thinking of video recordings he had seen of Sharon's face during then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's speech while on his historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1979.
"More than anyone else," the Palestinian diplomat said, "he [had] an unmasked unease."
The Sharon-Moussa talks on that day matched everything that this diplomat had in mind: Sharon was a thug, not a politician, and clearly not a peace-maker. He believed Israel was stronger than all Arabs, even though the idea of "all Arabs" had already become a moot point by then. He wanted the land of “all the Palestinian territories or as much as he could get” and he did not care very much about the peace deals because he was confident that there would be no war against Israel. Above all else, though, he was not going to allow the “march of the peace process to go very far” – whether by aggressive confiscation of occupied territories or by saying no to everything that was offered.
Sharon, according to Egyptian and Jordanian diplomats who served in Israel, did not care to be either Yitzhak Rabin nor Shimon Peres, the Israeli politicians who, along with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for engaging in talks that eventually led to the Oslo Accords. Sharon, these diplomats say, cared most for what he believed in: a strong Israel that is feared by its neighbours rather than anything else.
Sharon made it clear – according to some Arab and Western diplomats – that he was not hoping for Nobel Peace Prize. “He was almost mocking Rabin and Peres,” said the Palestinian diplomat.
After Rabin was killed, and as the politcal left began to lose ground in Israel, Sharon, well aware of weakening Arab ties, decided to push the limits even further. In September, 2000, he walked into the court of Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, which when coupled with rising anger over the failed peace process, prompted the Second Intifada. Even this uprising, though, did not prevent Arabs from issuing their Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, to which Sharon responded with a heavy siege against Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, and by the slow building of a separation wall along and through the West Bank which cut into Palestinian villages and ate up basic Palestinian resources.
Diplomats agree that a few years later, Sharon dealt his final – some say ‘the’ final – blow to the call of a Palestinian state when he ordered the redeployment of Israeli soldiers around Gaza while reoccupying large segments of Palestinian territories in the West Bank that had been supposedly liberated.
“He threw Gaza out, as he, Rabin and every other Israeli leader had wanted, and he cut the West Bank with the wall and re-imposed Israeli military presence,” commented another Palestinian diplomat, adding that ever since that time, there have hardly been any serious peace talks because the situation on the ground has been considerably worse.
The diplomat added that it was Sharon's redeployment of troops out of and around Gaza that allowed “Hamas to expand in Gaza and thus led to the de facto separation of Palestinian territories and Palestinian leadership.”
Sharon also, according to another Egyptian diplomat, turned Gaza into "almost a foreign territory" upon which all sorts of military operations were launched to avenge anti-Israeli attacks, operations “with no mercy – no matter the Arab denunciation and international call for self-restraint."
According to political commentator Abdel-Alim Mohamed, “in every step of the way, Sharon reminded Arabs of their weakness and their divisions," but he did so while anticipating that the Palestinian cause would soon tire and that Arab regimes would be consumed in "headaches" with their internal affairs.
“Ultimately it was Sharon rather than any other Israeli [leader] who defined the parameters of the course of Arab-Israeli relations," Mohamed said. "This he did with the support of his people and in the interest of his people – as he saw it."