Sharon came to believe that ensuring Israel's longevity required a robust Jewish majority and Jerusalem in Israel's hands for eternity. Israel had to separate from the 4 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank if he was to achieve those goals.
He did not want to leave that task to the next generation of Israeli politicians; he told me he viewed Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak as irresponsible. He believed only he and Shimon Peres, the last survivors of the founding generation, understood what was essential for the survival of the Jewish state. It was Sharon's belief in this historic role that enabled him to withstand the right wing assault on his Gaza disengagement and to quit the Likud party to leave himself free to carry out the next disengagement in the West Bank.
Tragically for Israelis and Palestinians, Sharon leaves the political stage with that task unfulfilled. And as the mantle now passes to the next generation it remains questionable whether any of them has the necessary combination of political agility, courage, and the trust of the Israeli people, to fulfill his legacy. Like his friend Yitzhak Rabin, Arik Sharon will now watch from the sidelines with eyebrow cocked.
SAID ABURISH, author of numerous books in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Arafat: From Defender to Dictator
Sharon was always very different from Israel's other soldier-politicians. Unlike his one-time boss and hero Moshe Dayan, he wasn't softened by exposure to outsiders. Nor did he suffer bouts of moral doubt regarding occupying Arab land the way Yitzhak Rabin did. Certainly he was no Ehud Barak who was willing to make compromises for peace. Sharon believed in a narrow nationalist creed. He drew a racial line between Arab and Jew that recalls the ugliest pages of fascist ideology. Only Sharon could allow leaderless Arab soldiers to die of thirst in Sinai and Lebanon.
He was investigated for behavior unbecoming after every major Arab-Israeli war. In 1982, his trespasses caught up with him and an Israeli parliamentary committee found him indirectly responsible for the massacre by Lebanese falangist militiamen of hundreds of innocent Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
The man whose actions made Arab-Israeli peace impossible for over 20 years is seen as "a man of peace" by Washington. But it shouldn't take a Palestinian who suffered the loss of loved ones and whose land was confiscated under Sharon to tell the world a different story.
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, syndicated columnist for The Washington Post
Sharon invented and implemented a new national idea for Israel in the wake of the collapse of the illusions surrounding the so-called Oslo peace process. He recognized that there was no peace partner to negotiate with. Therefore Israel would redefine itself unilaterally. A divorce from the Palestinians: withdrawing from the most provocative and difficult to defend areas Gaza and most of the West Bank while erecting a fence to mark the new frontier between Israel and Palestine. The policy will post-date Sharon because it is the only path that promises Israelis security (with the fence, terror attacks are down 90 percent) and independent freedom of action.
Sharon's departure will not affect the peace process because there is no Palestinian leader who is prepared to end the conflict with Israel. If in 10 or 50 or 100 years the Palestinians decide they want to negotiate a final agreement, the Israelis, sitting behind the Sharon fence in the Sharon-defined boundaries of Israel, will be willing to talk.
KHALIL SHIKAKI, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah
Most Palestinians see Sharon's legacy as one of brutality, from the "pacification" of Gaza in the early 1970s to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the Sabra and Shatila massacres for which Arab public opinion blamed Sharon despite an Israeli official inquiry finding that Israel was only "indirectly responsible." Palestinians see him as the father of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip was viewed by most as a victory for their armed struggle and an acknowledgement by Sharon of his inability to defeat the intifadah.
One of Sharon's most important achievements has been his success in translating positive changes in Israeli public opinion toward more moderate attitudes regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians into policy. Sharon followed the public, providing it with leadership it needed and by establishing Kadima, provided a potentially significant parliamentary constituency for moderate Israelis.