ARIEL SHARON: A BEAR OF A MAN
By Micah Halpern
Tuesday November 22,2005
Ariel Sharon has often been compared to a bear.
Some people liken the comparison because he's big, he's burly and his chuckle sounds like a guffaw. Others see the similarity in that he's tough, he's imposing and he tends to growl out demands. I'm here to tell you that either way you look at him, Ariel "Arik" Sharon is "smarter than the average bear."
Ariel Sharon is a brilliant tactician. Ariel Sharon is not an impulsive gambler. Splitting from Likud, the party he helped create many elections ago, is no "boo boo." It is a brilliant, a risky but brilliant, move.
Last week Ariel Sharon was the prime minister of Israel, leader of the ruling Likud party. His legacy was secure. But his vision was being compromised. And that is why Sharon chose to make his move. By splitting from Likud Ariel Sharon is making a calculated move. He believes that surrounded by friends and supporters, not back biters and dissenters, he will be able to bring about his vision for a better Israel, for a safer Israel. And who are Ariel Sharon's friends? They are not politicians, there are very few politicians whom he trusts. They are the people themselves. Sharon is attempting to move solidly into the center of the Israeli electorate because that is where the constituency he has built since taking over the premiership lives.
Ariel Sharon wants to transform the entire paradigm of the Middle East. And this bear of a man is willing to take even personal risks for the sake of peace and greater security for his people.
Like him or hate him, agree with his politics, his vision, his personal style or be diametrically opposed, everyone must admit that Ariel Sharon is acting boldly, not blindly with this move. Arrogantly? Perhaps. But certainly not complacently. He knows the risks and thinks them worthwhile. In a news conference announcing the split from his own party, the very party he created and chose a name for in 1973 Sharon said: "had I stayed in the Likud, I would have certainly won the primaries and led them to an electoral victory... It would have been safer personally, but it is not the way to serve the State of Israel. Staying in the Likud means wasting time in political struggles instead of acting for the good of the country."
Both in his capacity as prime minister and as leader of the Likud party, Sharon has devoted an inordinate amount of time to in-fighting. What does he hope to achieve as leader of yet another of the many, many parties on Israel's political horizon, he hopes to root out and marginalize some of the loudest and most vocal critics from within the inner circle of Israeli politics.
Sharon's departure will now force the remainder of Likud to consider who they are. Are they a centrist party or are they a marginal party that really belongs to the right wing? If the Likud is centrist, then Sharon will have a real fight on his hands. But if the new leadership of Likud is actually right wing, if they truly are the rebels who rejected Sharon's redeployment from Gaza, then Sharon is victorious, his move will have paid off, as Israelis say, b'gadol, big, massively, assuredly.
And that is exactly what Ariel Sharon expects will happen. Sharon is expecting that without his vision directing them forward, Likud will become a medium to minor sized party. Sharon is expecting that now Likud will be forced to either compete with or join the right wing parties, for the 8-10% of the country that is right wing. He has calculated that the middle of the country, the majority, will see Likud for what it has turned itself into and abandon the party. The flagship will have been lost.
In the last national election voters on the extreme right voted for the National Unity Party. And in the last national election Likud received only 3% of the votes cast by West Bank and Gaza Israelis. That is a very important statistic. It is clear that Sharon knows that Likud has lost their constituency and that they will have difficulty taming their message and catering it to the mainstream Israeli public. It is clear that in withdrawing from Gaza Sharon acted out his conscious, played out his vision and lost nothing in terms of voter numbers because he never had their votes.
The largest and therefore the most important group of voters in Israel are in the middle. As Likud goes further right and Labor goes further left as is evident from the election of their new party leader, the middle is up for grabs. Sharon believes that he will take it. He, Arik, the man. He believes that he would have taken it as leader of Likud and that he will take it as leader of the new party he has formed.
The same people who voted for Netanyahu in order to oust Peres later voted for Barak in order to oust Netanyahu and then voted for Sharon is order to oust Barak. But now they are very happy, very happy with Sharon. These people are truly the silent majority, we do not hear their political voices, but they are the overwhelming majority of Israel.
It is still a long uphill battle for Ariel Sharon and for those who choose to join him in his new party. But the man is not about to lie down and hibernate. Like with all things that are worthwhile, Ariel Sharon, prime minister of Israel, knows that challenges are worth the risks.
We will see.