Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel, has died, Shlomo Noy, the director of the Sheba Medical Center, where Sharon was being treated, said during a televised press conference.
The AP reports that during earlier statements, Sharon’s son Gilad Sharon said, “He has gone. He went when he decided to go.”
Haaretz reports that Sharon died Saturday after spending eight years in a coma.
He was 85.
Sharon was one of Israel’s most iconic and controversial figures. Before being elected prime minister in 2001, he had served as one of the county’s most lauded generals.
One of the defining moments of his career was the central role he played in the expansion of Jewish settlements in territories seized during the 1967 Six-Day War. But, then, in the the mid-2005, Sharon directed the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip.
Edward Peter Djerejian, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told CNN those two things show an evolution. When Sharon, a conservative hardliner and war hero, became prime minister, he realized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not be solved through military means alone.
Reporting from Jerusalem, correspondent Daniel Estrin filed this short remembrance for our Newscast unit:
“He was nicknamed ‘The Bulldozer,’ a hard-liner known to plow over his critics and get his way. Ariel Sharon served in Israel’s independence war and nearly every major in Israel’s history. He is credited with helping win the 1973 Mideast war, a crucial turning point in Israel’s history. He resigned as defense minister following what is known as the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinians in the 1982 Lebanon War.
“As a candidate for prime minister in 2000, he made a bold visit to a contentious Jerusalem holy site. The second Palestinian uprising erupted shortly after. In 2001, he was elected prime minister. For decades he championed Jewish settlements in captured territories. But in 2005 he led a dramatic withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip.”
NPR’s Mike Shuster has filed a full obituary. On this post, we’ll note reaction to Sharon’s death as we receive it.
Update at 8:48 a.m. A Mess That He Cleaned Up:
We’ll point you to a 2006 profile of Sharon written by Avi Shavit for The New Yorker.
Shavit takes a sober look at Sharon, from his time in the military, where he was an iron-fisted general, who was ruthless in his fight against terrorism and instrumental in the strategic expansion of settlements, to his older days, when he decided to withdraw from Gaza.
Two key paragraphs:
“Under his governance, Israel was weaned of the hope for an ideal end. It even came to realize that there would be no absolute peace or victory. Fundamentally, Sharon was a man of process. If he has left a legacy, it is the need for time—lots of time—because there is no way to reach peace with one abrupt act.
“In his cumbersome way, he said to the Israelis: I will withdraw. But he also said, I will withdraw very slowly. Shweiyeh shweiyeh, without haste, as an Arabic phrase used in Hebrew slang has it. And I’ll rip them to shreds if they understand my withdrawal incorrectly and abuse it. Because I am not a liberal romantic. I am from here, and I will not be Mahmoud Abbas’s sucker or Kofi Annan’s sucker. I will do only what is good for us. And, just as in the nineteen-forties, fifties, and sixties I conquered land for us, now I will withdraw for us. And, just as in the nineteen-seventies, eighties, and nineties I settled the territories on our behalf, now I will evacuate for us.”
Shavit concludes: “Israel was somehow fortunate, to have the person who made the mess try to clean it up.”
Update at 8:22 a.m. ET. ‘A Daring Leader’:
In a statement, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sharon was a “daring leader who loved his nation and his nation loved him.”
He went on: “He was one of Israel’s great protectors and most important architects, who knew no fear and certainly never feared vision. He knew how to take difficult decisions and implement them.”