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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 314

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (12:22): I rise today to speak about one of the most provocative and imposing figures in modern Middle Eastern history. No-one can deny that Ariel Sharon left his mark on the region. Equally, no-one can deny his passion for his country. Born in 1928 in what was then the British mandate of Palestine, Sharon made his career in the Israel Defense Forces. By the time of Israel's modern-day inception in 1948, Sharon had risen to the ranks of commander. Sharon was later described as one of the greatest commanders in Israel's history after successes in the 1948 War of Independence, the 1956 Suez War, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. During the War of Independence he survived being shot in the groin, stomach and foot. He left the IDF a highly decorated soldier.

Shortly after retiring from the army he embarked upon a political career. He was instrumental in helping to establish the Likud Party, a party he would later lead. His political career was not without controversy. In 1981, after helping lead Likud to election victory, he was rewarded by being named the Minister for Defense. It was during his time as the defense minister that he launched Operation Peace for Galilee, which later evolved into the 1982 Lebanon war. The purpose of the operation was to rid Lebanon of the PLO after the shooting of the Israeli ambassador in London. However, the war is remembered more for the Shatila massacre, a massacre conducted by the Phalangist militia upon civilians in the Shatila refugee camp. The massacre outraged many in Israel, and in a show of democratic force the Israeli government formed the Kahan commission. The inquiry concluded that, despite the massacre being conducted by the Lebanese militia, the IDF were indirectly responsible and, as defense minister, Sharon was ultimately answerable.

Sharon would later relinquish his role as defense minister but remain in the cabinet. Many thought that this was the end of his political career, but those critics were wrong. Sharon's appetite to serve his country never wavered, and in 2000 he campaigned to be prime minister. It was during this campaign that Sharon performed his second controversial political act. Surrounded by hundreds of guards he visited the Dome of the Rock Al-Aqsa Mosque, the holiest place to Jews and the third holiest place in Islam. This action was used by terrorists as a trigger for the second intifada and a wave of suicide bombs that followed. However, it was clear that the planning for this intifada was well underway before the visit. Sharon won that election. Many in Israel are very grateful that he did as a strong leader was needed in a very dark time in Israel's history.

Prime Minister Sharon surprised many with his tact and international diplomacy. He was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit India and he had open dialogue with Russia—a country that had often supported Israel's enemies. However, it was his willingness to reach out to the Palestinian Authority that confounded his critics and supporters alike. After previously supporting the expansion of settlements, it was under Sharon's leadership that Israel disengaged from Gaza, handing over control to the Palestinian Authority. This angered many hardliners in Israel including many in his own party. However, this demonstrated to those at home and in the international community his willingness to reach over the fence for the sake of peace.

In 2005 Sharon resigned as the leader of Likud after internal dissent over his disengagement in Gaza and he created a new party called Kadima. Tragically, Sharon suffered a stroke in the lead-up to the 2006 election—an election he was favoured to win. No-one will ever know what path Israel would have taken had he won that election. The stroke left Sharon in a coma for eight years and, after eight years of lying motionless, Sharon ultimately passed away. He was a colossal figure that left an indelible mark on the region. No matter what your views of Ariel Sharon, no-one can deny his passion for his country and his people. He was a powerful leader who only ever wanted what he thought was best for the safety and security of his nation, Israel. Not without controversy, he managed to reach out to his one-time enemy, putting history behind him in the pursuit of peace, and for this he must be admired. Ariel Sharon, rest in peace.