World grapples with Sharon legacy

Western leaders mostly honor the late Israeli prime minister, but many in the Middle East are far more critical

View Full Gallery

Former Israeli prime minister and military commander Ariel Sharon died Saturday at age 85. Sharon, who had been in a coma since a stroke in 2006, is survived by two of his sons and a legacy that will most likely be called "mixed."

Reacting to Sharon's passing, many international leaders chose to look past his controversial past, focusing instead on his fierce leadership and defense of Israel. Some even characterized him as a man of peace.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was saddened by Sharon's death, and offered his condolences to the former prime minister's family before calling on Israel to work towards the "long overdue" achievement of an independent Palestinian state.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is leading a renewed push for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, spoke fondly of Sharon, saying that he “admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State.”

President Barack Obama was terser, offering condolences and reaffirming the United States' "unshakable commitment to Israel's security," but stopping short of expressing admiration for the controversial figure.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, however, saw no need for restraint, calling Sharon, "one of the greatest warrior-statesmen in modern history."

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron hailed Sharon as a “brave” leader who made “controversial decisions in pursuit of peace.”

While French President Francois Hollande described Sharon as “a major player in the history of his country,” Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt took to twitter to describe the late prime minister as a “brilliant military commander” and “wise statesman.”

President Vladimir Putin of Russia highly praised Sharon’s personal qualities, his work to uphold the interests of Israel, and noted the respect he enjoyed among his compatriots and internationally.

Putin stressed that Sharon would be remembered in Russia as a consistent supporter of friendly relations between their two countries.

'No good memories'

But those in the region who had clashed with Sharon, either politically or militarily, were far more direct — and far more critical.

In Gaza, the Hamas government — whose political fortunes rose with the Israeli withdrawal — savored Sharon's demise.

"We have become more confident in victory with the departure of this tyrant," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi.

"Our people today feel extreme happiness at the death and departure of this criminal whose hands were smeared with the blood of our people and the blood of our leaders here and in exile."

P.L.O. central council member Mustafa Barghouti told the BBC that Sharon's death left “no good memories with Palestinians.”

“Unfortunately, he had a path of war and aggression and a great failure in making peace with the Palestinian people,” Mr. Barghouti said.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajub told the Los Angeles Times that Sharon was "a criminal," while Fatah official Jamal Muheisen told the Times the late Israeli leader had "committed atrocities against the Palestinian people and for this reason he stands today before God to pay for his crimes."

Human Rights Watch Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson saw Sharon's death as "another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer."

In Lebanon, which was invaded by Israel when Sharon was defense minister, that country's social affairs minister, Wael Abu Faour, told Beirut newspaper The Daily Star, "There is now less evil in this world."

Al Jazeera and wire services. Gregg Levine contributed to this report.

Related News

Ariel Sharon

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter


Ariel Sharon

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter