Ariel Sharon

Sharon, Ariel (ärˈēĕl shärōnˈ) [key], 1928–2014, Israeli general and politician, b. Kfar Malal as Ariel Scheinerman. As a teenager he joined the Haganah, the underground Zionist military brigade, and took his Hebrew name from the Sharon Plain, where he worked in 1947. A superb military leader in the 1948 and 1956 Arab-Israeli Wars, he was made a major general months before the 1967 war. In the 1973 conflict Israeli forces under his command captured Egypt's 3d Army. That year, Sharon resigned from the army, helped establish the right-wing Likud party, and won a seat in parliament. He served as security adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (1975–77) and as minister of agriculture (1977–81). He became (1981) defense minister in the second Begin government, and engineered the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Sharon was the chief architect of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and was widely criticized for allowing Lebanese Christian forces into Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut and held at least indirectly responsible for their subsequent massacre of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila camps. Ousted (1983) from the defense ministry, he subsequently was minister of trade and industry (1984–90) and minister of construction and housing (1990–92); in the latter post he worked to increase Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. In 1996 Sharon became minister of national infrastructure in Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet, and in 1998 he was also appointed foreign minister. After Netanyahu lost the prime ministership to One Israel (Labor) party leader Ehud Barak in 1999, Sharon succeeded Netanyahu as Likud leader.

In 2000, Sharon, accompanied by hundreds of soldiers and police, visited to the Al Aksa Mosque (Temple Mount), a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, located in Palestinian East Jerusalem, ostensibly to show that Israel had sovereignty over it and other holy sites. The visit sparked Arab demonstrations in Jerusalem and in many Arab enclaves, leading to a bloody Palestinian insurrection and, less directly, a prime-ministerial election in which Sharon, pledging to try to reach a workable Arab-Israeli peace while promoting domestic security, defeated Barak (2001). Sharon formed a government of national unity, but pursued a hard line with the Palestinians. Violence escalated in both the occupied territories and Israel, and in 2002 Sharon ordered the reoccupation of West Bank towns in an attempt to prevent attacks against Israelis. The national unity government broke up in Oct., 2002, and new elections in early 2003 resulted in a Likud victory.

In 2003 his government accepted the internationally supported "road map for peace," and resumed talks with the Palestinians until violence again broke out that August. In 2005, however, he withdrew Israeli settlers and forces from the Gaza Strip because of security issues; the move was opposed by many in Likud, and forced him into a coalition (2005) with Labor. Following the withdrawal, Netanyahu unsuccessfully challenged Sharon for the Likud party leadership, and Sharon subsequently formed the centrist Kadima [Forward] party. A stroke in 2006 left Sharon hospitalized in a coma until his death; Ehud Olmert succeeded him as prime minister.

See his autobiography, Warrior (1989); biographies by U. Benziman (1985) and A. Miller et al. (2002).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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