Our Washington correspondent spoke to Dennis Ross, one of the most experienced US diplomats and Middle East experts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, about his experience with one of Israel’s most controversial leaders.
Stefan Grobe, euronews: “Ambassador Ross, you have occupied top positions under presidents Bush Sr., Clinton and Obama, but more important, you have met Ariel Sharon many, many times. Give us a sense of who he was as a person, as a man.”
Dennis Ross: “He was extremely engaging as a human being. He was someone when you were working with him, while he could adopt a lot of different personas, he could be embracing, he could be bracing, meaning he could be very tough, he could be insistent, he could be responsive. He had multiple personas depending on the circumstances and also, I would say, depending on what his role was. Ariel Sharon as Prime Minister was very different than Ariel Sharon as Foreign Minister or Minister of Housing or as head of the opposition.”
euronews: “Sharon was a political phenomenon. On the one hand, there was the anti-Palestinian bulldozer, but on the other hand he was the one who had the guts to try to end the conflict with the Palestinians. What was his vision for Israel and the Middle East?”
Ross: “It’s an interesting question, because I described him as someone who was very pragmatic, but he was also someone who was not trusting. I mean, he said to me at different points, ‘Look, I don’t trust them’. He said, ‘I understand the need for dignity, I understand that we have to address the needs they have, but I don’t really trust that they have made a transition’. His view was that there was a wide gap still between Israelis and not just Palestinians, but Israelis and Arabs. So he didn’t have a sense that somehow there was going to be this great transition. On the other hand, this was a guy who at one point had said, ‘Jordan is Palestine’, and later on he became one of the biggest supporters of the Israeli-Jordanian relationship and he looked for ways to build cooperation.”
euronews: “Is there anything that Israeli leaders of today can learn from Sharon?”
Ross: “He would draw very clear red lines! This is who he was. And you could assume that if he said he wasn’t going to do something, really wasn’t going to do something, he wasn’t going to do it. I was once interviewed and asked to explain the difference between Sharon and Arafat, and I said that’s easy. Arafat makes commitments easily, because he doesn’t intend to fulfil them. With Sharon it’s very hard to get a commitment from him, because if he gives a commitment, he actually believes he has to carry it out. And that’s who he was.”
euronews: “Historically, Israel has produced some very strong and powerful leaders: Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres. If you were to outfit a Hall of Fame of Israeli politicians, where would you rank Ariel Sharon?”
Ross: “It’s a good question. It’s hard to do the rankings. I mean, my own rankings would be probably Ben Gurion first and Rabin second, but I would probably put Sharon third.”
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