Ariel Sharon has a way of surprising even his staunchest adversaries. When he met Anwar Sadat during the Egyptian President's path-breaking visit to Jerusalem in 1977, Sadat wagged a finger at him and told him that the next time he crossed the Suez Canal without permission, he would be arrested. They both laughed. Sadat was referring to the offensive, led by then General Sharon, that marked the turning point in the 1973 October Waran Israeli victory that paved the way to Egyptian-Israeli peace.
Once again Sharon, 77, is on the move, and once again history is watching. The Israeli Prime Minister has stirred the pot by pledging to withdraw troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. To be sure, many Arabsand Israelisdoubt Sharon's sincerity. As a young brigade commander, he bamboozled Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan by sending paratroops into battle in the Sinai's Mitla Pass in 1956. And as a Cabinet minister during the 1980s and '90s, he established and expanded settlements in the occupied territories in the face of opposition at home and abroad. Yet Sharon seems serious about disengagement. If it leads to a general rollback from the Palestinian territories, Sharon may one day be remembered alongside Charles de Gaulle, who came to power committed to holding on to Algeria but swiftly moved to rid France of its colonial burden.
Morris is the author of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited
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