Former Israeli Prime Minister Dies, US and Palestine Continue Diplomatic Efforts


Allyson Werner
National Beat Reporter

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Saturday, Jan. 11, that the Palestinian people would not back down from their goal to establish a capital in east Jerusalem.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been working diligently to forge a deal between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Presumably, the peace deal would dictate the future of Jerusalem; however, Netanyahu has previously rejected this demand.

Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian National Authority and Kerry, indirectly, on Thursday, Jan. 2, for their diplomatic efforts.

“There’s growing doubt in Israel that the Palestinians are committed to peace,” said Netanyahu.

The Prime Minister’s anger was largely due to a series of attacks that have plagued Israel the last few weeks. Israeli officials said that one of the bomb-makers behind a foiled attack on an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv was a Palestinian police cadet in Bethlehem.

Secretary of State John Kerry defended diplomacy.

“This is not mission impossible,” said Kerry. “The time is soon arriving where leaders are going to have to make difficult decisions. We are close to that time, if not at it.”

This harsh rhetoric from both parties as well as the death of Ariel Sharon, former Israeli political leader and military commander, sheds light on the rocky road toward diplomacy.

Sharon died on Jan. 11 after spending eight years in a state of minimal consciousness in Sheba Medical Center just outside of Tel Aviv, the nation’s financial center. Visitation had been restricted to Sharon’s sterile suite due to a fear of infection. Nevertheless, Gilad Sharon, one of Ariel Sharon’s two surviving sons, told reporters that his father “went when he decided to go.”

Professor Shlomo Nov of the medical center announced that heart failure was the immediate cause of death; however, Sharon’s organs had been deteriorating for several days.

For most of his career, Sharon championed harsh Zionist and expansionist policies, pushing for Israeli settlements in occupied lands, primarily the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As a result, Sharon developed a reputation for his harsh treatment of Palestinians over whom Israel ruled.

However, in 2005, Sharon shocked the world when he withdrew Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, abandoned his Likud party, and formed a centrist movement called Kadima, which focused on further withdrawal of Israeli troops from disputed territories and the formation of a Palestinian state.

In addition to supporting the withdrawal of Israeli troops from disputed territories, Sharon also completed part of a 450-mile barrier along and through parts of the West Bank. Sharon had long opposed the construction of the security or separation wall, as the barrier is often referred to.

Sharon’s change-of-heart went beyond military tactics. Sharon had long been against any form of diplomacy with the Palestinians, arguing that Palestinian political authorities were neither capable of nor willing to compromise. However, after Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat died in 2004, Sharon built a relatively cordial relationship with Abbas.

After Sharon was incapacitated in January of 2006, the new Kadima party still won the majority of the votes. It was not until 2009 that the Likud party regained political power under Netanyahu.

Sharon’s political inconsistencies reflect the current political dilemmas facing Israelis. While some more moderate Israelis support peace negotiations, other more militant Israelis, including Netanyahu, support more extreme militant policies toward their Palestinian neighbors.