At Israel’s state memorial service Monday for Ariel Sharon, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden described the larger-than-life military and political leader as a complex man.
“Complex” is a diplomatic choice of words. Sharon, 85, stirred powerful feelings throughout the Middle East, even after eight years in a coma following a stroke.
Sharon’s physical courage and political brashness too often appeared to operate without any boundaries or context.
His military leadership helped secure Israel’s future. Just as quickly, he could be pulled aside for decisions and actions that were over the top even in that harsh region.
Sharon’s tenacity was boundless. The slaughter of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in two camps during the 1982 war with Lebanon cost him his job as defense minister. An Israeli inquiry said he had failed to act to prevent the massacres by Lebanese militias.
He would return to public life as prime minister, and create a new party in the process. The mighty warrior and promoter of Israeli settlements stunned everyone when he led the effort to turn over the West Bank and Gaza to Palestinian rule.
Sharon’s recognition of that path toward peace has not been sustained by those who followed him in Israeli politics. Yet Sharon’s decisive role in returning the Gaza Strip to Palestinians will trump Sabra and Shatila in history, and define his legacy.