For better or worse, it will forever be viewed a major turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: ten years ago this month, a notably overweight aspirant Israeli politician named Ariel Sharon proudly ascended Jerusalem’s Temple Mount escorted by 1,000 Israeli police officers.
Israeli leaders claimed Sharon’s visit had been coordinated with Palestinian authorities, while Palestinian leaders claimed his ascent was an intentional provocation.
Within a few days the most violent Palestinian uprising ever had begun, and whether by intention or accident, Sharon’s actions were credited with eventually delivering him to the Israeli premiership.
Ten years later, the man who fundamentally changed the course of Israeli history is hardly with us: fed through a tube in a secured wing of a hospital where no one goes.
What would Sharon say today? Where would the ‘Sharon doctrine’, if there ever was such a thing, lead the Jewish state were it operative today?
“Sharon would be very disappointed,” says Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s former chief-of-staff, in reference to the politics of the day. “In his time, we believed that once the Palestinians would reach a stage where security is provided for and a serious effort is made against terrorism, it will facilitate a political process. But this condition has largely been met - today the Palestinians are acting quite successfully against terrorism and the general security situation in the Palestinian Authority has dramatically improved, yet all of this has no serious impact over the bilateral relationship and the political process seems to go backwards.”
Dr Ra’anan Gissin, a senior advisor to Sharon when he was prime minister, depicts the Sharon doctrine as something akin to militant pragmatism.
“The Sharon Doctrine can be summarized in one soundbite: I’m not worried about Israel’s security today nor in three years. I’m not worried about Hamas and I’m not worried about Iran. What I am really worried about,” he says with overly dramatized suspense, “is how Jews are going to live in Israel in 30 years or 300 years from now.”
“What Israel needs in the long term and not in the short term, that’s what Sharon was about,” Dr Gissin continues. “So he was willing to do some unpopular things to ensure Israel’s survivor in a rough neighborhood.”
“Sharon believed in always taking the initiative, never waiting for someone else to take the lead,” he says. “But he also believed in keeping the best and leaving the rest,” he says. “In other words you have to decide what are the most important things to ensure the survival of the Jewish people for hundreds of years, then be a strong position to negotiate about the rest.”
“So one always asks, what would have happened if Sharon had stayed on?” he continues. “All I can says is the course of history would have been quite different, and maybe this whole Gilad Shalit fiasco wouldn’t have happened. Even though they hated him, the Arabs took Sharon seriously and wouldn’t mess with him. And for Sharon rescuing Israelis in captivity was central… he would have found a way to bring Gilad Shalit home.”