Poised for the past eight years since Arik Sharon’s huge stroke – everyone is now scribbling eulogies and histories of the late prime minister.
The history of Ariel Sharon is indeed huge – his intimate involvement in every war and most political events since the foundation of the State – and his bold decisions and ‘bulldozer’ tactics make tremendous narrative and lively history.
While remaining respectful, I will speculate about what might have happened, had Ariel Sharon followed his doctor’s advice, eaten healthier, lost weight, and (in all medical likelihood) not been the victim of a stroke on 4th January, 2006.
To refresh our memories, Sharon had completed the highly contentious “Disengagement” from Gaza in summer 2005, evacuating some 10,000 Israelis from their homes in Gush Katif and Northern Samaria.
The Disengagement caused a huge chasm within the Israeli public – with mass demonstrations and civil disobedience on a scale never previously experienced.
However, having set the legal (The Evacuation & Compensation Law) and military framework for evacuating settlements also in the West Bank, Sharon immediately sought a political combination which would support a larger unilateral withdrawal from the majority of the West Bank. Sharon was a political architect of the Separation/Security Fence, which was envisaged to become the national partition line.
Indeed in the same Cabinet Meeting in February 2005, which decided to implement the Gaza Disengagement, the plans for the Security Fence around the West Bank were also approved:
The Cabinet also approved the final route of Israel’s separation barrier in the West Bank, initially constructed to keep out Palestinian attackers but increasingly seen as a blueprint for a final border between Israel and a future Palestinian state. (Fox News)
The Likud Party itself had largely not supported the Disengagement from Gaza, including voting down the policy in the party Conference of 2005, and so, following the Disengagement, in November 2005, Sharon dramatically dumped his own Likud party (which he had founded together with Menachem Begin in 1973) and established Kadima on 24th November 2005.
At the time of his stroke, Sharon was head of the new Kadima, running for national elections.
The Kadima platform was centered upon the “Road Map” and “Two State Solution”; at the establishment of Kadima Sharon had already broached the subject of withdrawing from more West Bank Settlements.
Whereas Ehud Olmert ‘temporarily’ replaced Sharon, in January 2006, due to Sharon’s incapacitated state, and went on to win the 2006 National Election with 29 seats, to become Prime Minister – it is certainly reasonable to speculate that, if Sharon had been healthy, Sharon would have won that election for Kadima and become Prime Minister again, probably with an even larger party and coalition than Olmert managed (Olmert was not a popular politician, compared with Sharon).
As Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert continued to promote the Road Map and plans for withdrawals from Jewish settlements in the West Bank – right up until the last days of the 2nd Lebanon War, when Olmert dropped the idea from his immediate agenda.
I therefore speculate that Arik Sharon would have aggressively pursued either unilateral or agreed withdrawal from much of the West Bank during his 2006-2010 term as Prime Minister. This would have been on a much larger scale, forcefully evacuating and relocating up to 100,000 Israelis who live outside “settlement blocks”.
There was another factor very much in Sharon’s mind on that fateful 4th January 2006.
A few months earlier, on 26th July 2005, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced that Omri Sharon would be indicted for fraud, during the course of Ariel Sharon’s 1999 Likud election campaign. Omri was charged on 28th August but was immune due to his status as an MK. Omri reached a plea bargain, agreeing to plead guilty to the charges, on 14th November 2005. The immunity was removed by the Kenesset and Omri resigned on January 3, 2006 – the day before Sharon’s stroke, to face his already agreed imprisonment (Omri was sentenced to 9 months, later reduced to 7 months).