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Jeffrey Goldberg

Ariel Sharon Never Changed

If there has been one theme to Sharon’s life, it was relentless, aggressive expansion: forward, always forward. 

Shortly after the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000 -- an uprising allegedly, though not actually, triggered by an infamous Ariel Sharon walkabout atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem -- I was visiting Sharon's ranch in southern Israel for the harvest holiday of Sukkot. Sharon, who died today at 85after eight years in a stroke-induced coma, had erected a sukkah -- a temporary open-air hut meant to serve as a symbolic shelter -- that could seat 200 people. He was the leader of the Likud party then, contemplating a run for prime minister, and the sukkah was overflowing with party activists. The mood was celebratory. At one point, a small group of young activists took up a chant: "Arik, King of Israel," using Sharon's nickname. Many members of the Likud Knesset faction were present. I sat for a while with one of the toughest Likud hardliners, Uzi Landau, who was in a gloating mood.

The Oslo peace process had more or less collapsed by Sukkot of 2000. Ehud Barak, who was then prime minister, had returned to Israel empty-handed from the Camp David peace talks a couple of months earlier. He had offered Palestinian negotiators most of what they said they wanted, but Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, left Camp David without even making a counter-offer. Barak was suffering in the polls, and Sharon saw a chance to strike. I asked Landau, who was one of Sharon's key supporters, what he thought about the demise of the peace process. "Oslo is Munich, and Arik is Churchill," he said.