Sharon, Ariel (Arik)

(formerly Sheinerman)
(1928- )
   He was born in Kfar Malal, a farm village not far from present-day Tel Aviv. At the age of 14, he joined the Hagana, was wounded during the War of Independence (1948^-9), and subsequently rose swiftly in the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In 1952, he established the "101 Unit" for special operations (a special commando force known for its daring operations behind enemy lines), and in 1956, he commanded a paratroop brigade, units of which parachuted into the Mitla Pass to mark the beginning of the Sinai War (1956). He then studied at the British Staff College in Camberley and, upon his return, was appointed head of the IDF School of Infantry. In 1962, he became director of military training of the IDF, and that same year, he graduated from the law school of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In the Six-Day War (1967), he commanded an armored division that fought in the Sinai Peninsula and in 1969 became commanding officer of the southern command.
   In June 1973, Sharon resigned from the IDF, joined the Liberal Party, and was instrumental in bringing about the alignment of Herut, the Free Center, the State List, and the Liberal Party within the framework of the Likud bloc. The Yom Kippur War (1973) brought him back to active military service as a reserve officer in command of an armored division, units of which were the first to cross the Suez Canal and establish an Israeli bridgehead on the Egyptian side. In December 1973, he stood for election to the Knesset and was elected on behalf of the Liberal Party faction of the Likud bloc. In December 1974, Sharon resigned from the Knesset so that his reserve commission with the IDF might be reinstated. In June 1975, he was appointed adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on security affairs and held that position until April 1976, when he resigned to form the Shlomzion Party, which gained two seats in the election to the ninth Knesset in May 1977. Immediately following the election, the Shlomzion Party merged with the Herut Party faction of the Likud bloc, and it was on this ticket that Sharon was reelected to the 10th Knesset on 30 May 1981. He was appointed minister of agriculture in June 1977.
   On 5 August 1981, Sharon was sworn in as minister of defense but was forced from this position in February 1983 after the publication of the Kahan Commission of Inquiry report concerning the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. However, he remained in the cabinet and later became minister of industry and trade, being reappointed to that position in December 1988. In June 1990, he became minister of construction and housing. In that capacity, he was able to institute a plan to increase substantially the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Although he initially announced his intention to vie for the prime ministership in 1996, he subsequently withdrew his candidacy and instead concentrated on unifying the center-right vote behind the Likud's prime ministerial candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu.
   Sharon played an important role in facilitating the formation of the joint "national camp" list for the 1996 Knesset election involving the Likud, Gesher, and Tsomet. He was initially not included in the cabinet formed by Netanyahu, but after intense negotiations, he agreed to accept a new portfolio, that of minister of national infrastructure. He was also named a member of Netanyahu's "kitchen cabinet" on security and foreign policy and in that capacity formulated a model of "strategic interests" in the West Bank that helped to set the parameters for the internal debate in Israel over the future nature of relations with the Palestinians. Appointed foreign minister in October 1998, he joined Netanyahu in negotiations with the Palestinians that culminated with the Wye River Memorandum of 23 October 1998. On 17 May 1999, Sharon was reelected to the 15th Knesset on the Likud list, and he was chosen temporary leader of the party after Netanyahu's resignation following his defeat to One Israel's Ehud Barak in the direct election for prime minister and Likud's defeat in the Knesset election. On 2 September1999, Sharon was elected party leader, defeating Ehud Olmert and Meir Shitreet.
   Sharon's brief visit to Jewish holy places on Jerusalem's Temple Mount in late September 2000 was seen by some as a contributing factor to the outbreak of the Al-Aksa intifada, although the Mitchell Committee Report explicitly rejected the Palestinian charge that it was the contributing factor. On 6 February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel, defeating One Israel Party leader Barak in the special election for prime minister by a decisive ratio of 62.3 percent to 37.6 percent of the popular vote. He formed a broad-based coalition involving Likud and Labor that proved to be relatively stable. In the general election to the 16th Knesset held on 8 January 2003, Sharon and the Likud Party took 38 seats (up from only 19 seats in the previous Knesset).
   For many international observers, the successful implementation of his Gaza unilateral disengagement plan in August 2005 marked the transformation of Sharon from warrior to Middle East peacemaker. The irony is that the plan was implemented over the vigorous opposition of growing elements of Sharon's own Likud Party as well as his natural political constituency among the settler community. Feeling increasingly estranged from these constituencies, Sharon on 11 November 2005 caused an "earthquake" in the Israeli political system by quitting the Likud—charging that its traditional "not one inch" ideology with regard to the Palestinians had become impractical and harmful to Israel's strategic interests — and announcing plans to form a new "centrist" party (which became Kadima) to contest the election to the 17th Knesset.
   On 18 December 2005, Sharon suffered a mild stroke, leaving the hospital two days later. However, he suffered a significant stroke that caused a massive brain hemorrhage on 4 January 2006. His authority was transferred to Olmert.
   See also Security Barrier (Security Fence, Separation Fence); Separation.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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