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'Third Way' a Myth; Sharon's Switch Means Left Has Won
What legacy has Ariel Sharon left, and what will be the long-term impact of that legacy on Israel? Since the prime minister was stricken by a stroke, columnists and commentators have been clamoring to describe Sharon and to define the impact of his years in power on Israel and the Mideast.
Disturbingly, most of the commentators have based their views of Sharon's tenure in office on a myth.
The myth of Sharon and his leadership is that over the past two years he redefined the center of Israeli politics. Charles Krauthammer, writing in The Washington Post, claimed: "Sharon's genius was to seize upon and begin implementing a third way." Other conservative commentators have made identical and equally false arguments.
It's true that Sharon restructured the political map of Israel over the past two years. But he did not do so by blazing a new path, with a new vision for Israeli politics, society and security. Sharon redefined Israel's political map by embracing the Israeli left.
For years, Israel has been divided between right and left. The right argues that given Arab rejectionism of Israel's right to exist, Israel must take all necessary measures to ensure that it is capable of defending itself, by itself, from all threats to its security.
For its part, the left has claimed that Arab rejectionism of Israel is due to Israeli actions and, as a result, the Arabs can and ought to be appeased. To appease the Arabs, the left believes that Israel must transfer territory to the Palestinians and enable the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak before him, Sharon's political cachet was based on the public's perception of him as a security hawk and a patriot. What differentiated Sharon from Rabin and Barak was not so much his policies, but rather the fact that he came from the rightist Likud rather than the leftist Labor.
Rabin's adoption of the catastrophic Oslo peace process with the PLO, and Barak's misguided peace offers to Arafat at Camp David and Taba, paved the way for the Palestinian terror war against Israel. These policies provided Israel's enemies with the military means, the territory and the political legitimacy necessary to carry out their war.
Yet the demise of these policies did not leave Israelis without other options. In the 1996 elections - as in 2001 and 2003 - Israelis turned to the Likud and the political right for remedies. Indeed, in 2003, Sharon won his smashing victory for the Likud after militarily re-entering the cities of Judea and Samaria to fight terror, and ridiculing the irresponsibility of Labor's proposed unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
And then Sharon - for reasons still unknown because he himself refused to explain them - took a sharp leftward turn, and adopted the very policies the Israeli electorate had just so resoundingly rejected.
Sharon's rhetorical shift to the left was followed by his policy shift in the same direction when, against the backdrop of ever-increasing Palestinian radicalization, he called for and carried out its reconfigured policy of appeasement by unilaterally surrendering Gaza and northern Samaria to Palestinian terrorists.
Like Rabin's leftward shift of a decade ago and its attendant handover of territory and power to Palestinian terrorist organizations, Sharon's policies have wrought terrible consequences for Israel's security. Earlier this month, even Ha'aretz's military commentator Amir Oren acknowledged that "the disengagement looked like a failed initiative in most of its aspects."
It's true that Sharon has remade the political map of Israel. The large "centrist" faction Sharon is so hailed for having discovered is, however, little more than a collection of left-wingers like Shimon Peres on one hand, and opportunistic and non-ideological Likud members on the other. Sharon has left no coherent vision for the state other than Peres: further surrender to Palestinian terrorism based on the expulsion of thousands Jews from their homes, in the vain hope that strengthening the enemy will lessen the costs of its war on Israel.
Whatever the results of the coming elections may be, one thing is all but certain: Sharon's legacy of adopting the left's vision of will eventually be abandoned. As was the case with Rabin and Barak before him, Sharon and his view of Israel's security predicament, based as it is on false assumptions, will reach a point where its failure will no longer be deniable.
Caroline Glick is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.