The paucity of senior foreign representation at the funeral of Arik Sharon pretty much said it all. Both the man and the Israeli lebensraum cause with which he was associated for most of his life are on the international shit list. Statesmen don’t want to be associated with either.
Even the typically euphemistic eulogies could barely conceal the darkness that lay at the heart of the man and his actions. Words like “complicated,” “complex” and “contentious” only served to highlight the absence of any true and honest account of the personal and national criminality in which Sharon indulged.
Arik Sharon was a warlord; vain, unscrupulous and inherently violent, as warlords are wont to be. He often bashed his (famously bandaged) head against the constraints of decency and justice that an increasingly enfeebled state attempted to impose on him, but he was a lot more successful than most of us would like to admit at molding the society in his own image.
The exaggerated narcissism, self-indulgence, mendacity and lack of restraint that Sharon exemplified are today deeply ingrained in the Israeli psyche. Whether that is due to the influence of Sharon himself or whether he was simply the harbinger of the evolved Israeli is difficult to know and not particularly important. The fact is that Israel has been sharonized to a depressing degree.
Much of the media commentary following Sharon’s death has focused on his so-called pragmatism. I guess that’s one way of putting it. It’s true that he wasn’t an ideologue, which means that he wasn’t constrained by dogma. In fact, he wasn’t constrained by anything. Sharon was self-serving and he had the inner flexibility to change course when it was in his own interest. Promises and commitments were easy prey. If Sharon wanted to do something, he did it.
Many commentators are also of the view that Sharon changed in the last few years of his conscious life and that he was on the verge of a dramatic peace play when he had his stroke. I’m not aware of any actual proof of that contention and it’s probably more wishful thinking than anything else. Not that he wasn’t capable of it – he was capable of anything – but I don’t think that peace was ever part of Sharon’s lexicon, even in his final, more grandfatherly years.
Sharon didn’t pull the army and settlers out of Gaza because he wanted peace. He did so, because he believed that the occupation of the West Bank would be more sustainable without the millstone of Gaza around Israel’s neck. His close associate Dov Weisglass said as much at the time. Sharon had no respect for Arabs and it’s highly unlikely that he ever contemplated compromising with them to the extent that real peace will require.
Peace, as we ought to have learned from Nelson Mandela, requires empathy, compassion and the ability to understand the viewpoint of the other. None of those qualities were included in the Sharon toolbox and they aren’t taught in the Israeli army’s officer school. It’s intriguing to think of the butcher of Beirut as the man who finally made peace, but it has little connection with reality.
The only peace that Sharon was capable of making was a peace of the sahib or the baas (as it was known in apartheid South Africa.) A peace of the rulers over the ruled; of the colonizers over the colonized. That’s not the sort of peace that’s on offer today and it wasn’t on the cards eight years ago.
The tragedy, of course, is that Sharon’s heirs are as unready for peace as he was in his heyday. He may have been the most egregiously violent and irresponsible of Israel’s leaders (though Yitzhak Shamir gave him stiff competition,) but he was not of different stock. Netanyahu may speak better English and wear more expensive suits, but he’s no less a racist and irredentist than Sharon was. Both are products of the Israeli school of colonial administration, which is still going strong.
Sharon’s legacy is wholly negative. Even his withdrawal from Gaza was accomplished without consultation and out of deep disdain for the Palestinians. He represented – and to an extent inspired –the dark side of Israel. The side which is fast becoming the norm.
Sharon didn’t give a shit for anyone or anything. He was a thuggish, corrupt megalomaniac who thought he was exempt from legal and ethical norms. He was a serial liar and an inveterate back-stabber. No-one, neither friend nor enemy, was safe when Sharon was around. He was a one-man assassination squad who should have been stopped a lot earlier in his long and bloody career.
If narcissism is pragmatism then Sharon was a pragmatist. If callous disregard for human life is charm, then Sharon was charming. In my book, he was a monster.