May 14, 1998
Breakfast with Mr. Security
Arik Sharon,the last of the great Israeli war heroes/politicians.
Photo by Peter Halmagyi
Last Saturday morning, as the Middle East peaceprocess careened toward yet another crisis point, Ariel Sharon washolding court at a back table in the Peninsula Hotel in BeverlyHills.
Sharon's ample presence was further magnified by astony security detail and a handful of well-heeled local supporters."This is a real hero!" proclaimed Uri Harkham, the Israeli-immigrantowner of the Jonathan Martin clothing company.
Sharon is indeed the last of the great Israeli warheroes/politicians. Credited with defeating the Egyptian army inSinai, he also carries the stigma of failure for the 1982 LebanonWar. But this morning, he seems to be luxuriating in his ability toexert a powerful hard-right pull on Binyamin Netanyahu, in whosegovernment he serves as minister of infrastructure. "I've been incontact with the prime minister four or five times in the last 48hours," he tells The Journal. Indeed, one Israeli analyst speculatedin the morning press that Netanyahu dared not accede to Washington'srequest for a 13-percent pullout from the West Bank so long as Sharonwas out of the country.
But, The Journal asks the general, what's the bigdeal over a couple of percentage points? "This isn't the stockmarket," he says. "Every percent is meaningful." There arefresh-water sources, crucial security emplacements, holy sites, notto mention Jewish settlements. American Jews, Sharon says, just don'tunderstand this. That explains why, in a recent Israel Policy Forumpoll, 80 perecent of them said they support President Clinton'sefforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "Who knowsfrom here what our security requirements are?" asks Sharon. "Whoknows here what happens in another state, even?"
As a combat hero and builder of numerous West Banksettlements, Sharon's credentials as Mr. Security are impeccable. Hissupporters will tell you that only Arik can be trusted not to giveaway the store, and Sharon boasts to a reporter that even thePalestinians prefer dealing with him. "They know exactly where Istand."
This gives Sharon, who is 70, the veto on the nextphase of Oslo. If Mr. Security says 13 percent is fine, so will mostIsraelis. If not, not. That arrangement brings a slim smile toSharon's lips. In The New York Times last month, Thomas Friedmansuggested that Sharon now has a chance to enter the history bookslike that other war hero/ peacemaker, Yitzhak Rabin. "I am familiarwith that article," Sharon says. "Of course, I would like to see thenext step [of Oslo] and to contribute to it, but I feel I have beencontributing to peace."
The Journal brings up Dan Kurzman's new biographyof Rabin. In it, Kurzman writes that Rabin had warm personal feelingsfor his fellow officer, though they had sharp politicaldisagreements. Sharon says the fondness was mutual, the disputes notso sharp. "You know, Rabin told me, 'If I would have been able, Iwould have dragged it [Israeli withdrawal] out for 20 years.'"
Sharon says he thought Rabin himself had beendragged into signing the Oslo accords. He doesn't allow for thepossibility that Rabin, who also was a Six-Day War hero and Mr.Security during the intifada, might have actuallyseen no better deal for Israel's security than Oslo. For Sharon, onthe other hand, waiting 20 years may be just about right.