[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 02:51 GMT 03:51 UK
Sharon: The power and the land

By James Reynolds
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem

There is a small house amid lemon trees on a farm in central Israel. It is here, on this land, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was born.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon is one the great survivors of Israeli politics
It was here, he says, that his convictions were formed.

"When the land belongs to you physically," he writes in his autobiography, Warrior, "that is when you have power". "Your strength," he concludes, "comes from the land."

But now, this same man is talking about disengagement, which surprises many Israelis.

"I think Sharon is not the Sharon we knew before," says Shimi, a gardener working across the road from the prime minister's birthplace.

"He changed a lot. He's not radical and I think that he's very brave to get up against his party and do and say the things he wants to do and say.

"I appreciate him even though I'm not one of his supporters."

Changing tack

And in the corridors of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, there is plenty of confusion.

Israeli barrier
Divisive plan: Sharon has pledged to fence off the West Bank
Ariel Sharon is the man who built many of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. But now he is talking of leaving Gaza. What is going on?

"It's a great question," says Benny Elon, Israel's Tourism Minister and the leader of the right-wing Homeland Party, "but I cannot answer it, I'm not in the psychology field.

"I can just say that uprooting of Jews from the land of Israel will make chaos in the Gaza Strip."

In power, it seems that Ariel Sharon is happy to take up the outline of ideas he once opposed.

One man who knows this to his cost is Amram Mitzna - the ex-leader of Israel's Labour Party.

He ran against Ariel Sharon in the general election of 2003, promising to remove Jewish settlements from Gaza, and to speed up the construction of Israel's West Bank barrier.

He was soundly beaten. And now, he watches as Mr Sharon adopts his main proposals.

"I receive a lot of mail and messages from many, many people who didn't vote for me," Mr Mitzna says.

"And they say they are sorry because at least you are very sincere and you stood behind what you declared."

Clever timing

When he came to power in 2001 Ariel Sharon was the man with the most straightforward reputation in Israeli politics.

He's an astute politician
Leslie Susser
Jerusalem Post
He was, of course, known as The Bulldozer. But now, three years later, he owns perhaps the most complex reputation in this country.

He has taken on the language of the left by talking about occupation, leaving Gaza, and the importance of a two state solution.

But, crucially, he is still using the methods of the right, shown when he authorised the killing of the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

"He's an astute politician," says Leslie Susser, the Diplomatic Correspondent of the Jerusalem Report.

"You can even look at the Yassin assassination. The timing of it was brilliant from his point of view because next week he has to face the Likud central committee.

"He can come to them and say, well look, I am leaving Gaza which to you maybe seems a sign of weakness, but I have at the same time taken out the leader of Hamas and I'm promising to do more of the same, so therefore you can trust me."


Many here now want to know exactly what Ariel Sharon's planning for the future.

They want to know what his Disengagement Plan will really entail. But, in public at least, the plan comes without a map.

"It's difficult to know exactly what he has in mind," says Yehezkel Lein, a researcher with the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, "but it looks like the final aim is to keep significant areas of the West Bank under Israeli control."

A year ago Ariel Sharon was in an uncomfortable position.

He was having to follow - or talk about following - someone else's plan, the international road map.

But that plan came to nothing. And now Mr Sharon has taken the initiative in this conflict with his own Disengagement Plan.

For all the talk of great change in him, Ariel Sharon is actually back in his favourite position - defining the course of the conflict by himself, letting others either catch up or give up.

Israel and the Palestinians



Palestinian women sit on a roof top of the home of a Palestinian family in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on 20 November 2006. Human shields
Palestinians adopt a new tactic to deter Israeli attacks, but this is a high-risk strategy





News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific