Ariel Sharon, who passed away Saturday at the age of 85, defined political courage — the willingness to sacrifice popularity and the office one holds for the greater good of the country.
Sharon was also physically courageous. He repeatedly risked his life in battle, achieving victories in the 1967 and 1973 wars. Had he and the Israeli army not won, there would be no Israel and no opportunity (however slim) for peace between Jews and Palestinians. It’s a vivid reminder that generals and then hard-headed politicians make peace possible.
Sharon’s career nearly ended when he was forced to resign as defense minister after Christian militiamen killed innocents in an area of his responsibility during the Lebanon war in 1982. But his career was hardly finished. Indeed, his highest political ambitions were realized nearly 20 years later when he became prime minister.
Like Harry Truman (whose world was rocked when Franklin D. Roosevelt died) and George W. Bush (whose world was rocked when 3,000 Americans died on Sept. 11), Sharon underwent a transformation when he reached his country’s highest office. From heroic service as a general and champion of the settler movement to statesman, his legacy as a great prime minister and peacemaker came in his final years in government.
No one took more “risks for peace” than Sharon, though his withdrawals from Gaza and from four West Bank settlements did not bear fruit. He nevertheless demonstrated Israel’s willingness to trade land for peace and to separate Israelis from Palestinians, allocating a state for each people all guaranteed by Israeli military might.
Many U.S. politicians issued statements upon hearing of Sharon’s death. In contrast to President Obama’s embarrassingly empty and formulaic missive, Bush issued a heartfelt statement. Secretary of State John Kerry also issued an appropriately warm and admiring statement, as did numerous Democrats and Republicans.
In these statements, if not the president’s, the depth of admiration for Sharon and affection for the Jewish state was evident. For Israelis and non-Israelis, he was a model of tenacity, bravery and shrewd leadership. The United States and the West could use more of his kind.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog (washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn) for The Washington Post, offering opinion from a conservative perspective.