Michael Oren: Ariel Sharon's Bid for Greatness Might Just Succeed

Roundup: Historians' Take

Speaking before a closed audience, Henry Kissinger once suggested that Ariel Sharon might be a Great Man. He did not elaborate but his audience nevertheless understood that Kissinger was placing Israel's prime minister in a category together with a very short list of historic leaders, topped by Winston Churchill. Like Churchill, Sharon had overcome early failures--Lebanon, his Gallipoli--to return to politics and eventually regain prominence. He had changed direction several times in the course of his career, demonstrating both pragmatism and foresight, all the while keeping his focus on the ultimate goal of preserving and strengthening the state. Great Men, Kissinger's listeners knew, think little of trampling over segments of their own populations, foes and former allies alike, in order to achieve their objectives. Sharon, they realized, was great not only in girth but also, potentially, in his vision.

That vision is relatively simple: stabilize Israel's relations with the Palestinians--and through them, much of the Arab world--so that Israel can meet future strategic challenges, resolve its internal contradictions, and maintain the Jewish majority on which the Zionist project depends. The man who established his reputation as an implacable warrior, Sharon, who is approaching 80, wants to conclude his political career as a peacemaker. Consequently, the arch opponent of the Oslo process and the architect of Israel's settlement movement has become the first Israeli prime minister to go on record in favor of creating a Palestinian state, and the first to uproot settlements from parts of the Land of Israel. Now, in a move that ranks with the boldness of his crossing of the Suez Canal in 1973 or his invasion of Lebanon less than a decade later, Sharon has broken with the Likud Party he helped construct, formed his own party, and turned to the polls. Realizing his vision is merely an election away.

But can he win? In spite of his consistently high popularity, the answer to that question remains uncertain. ...

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