On Monday, Ariel Sharon made his final journey, "meeting his fate at the end of days." Now, after eight years on the anomalous sidelines, he will pass into the purview of history, where his legacy will be examined without admiration, without loathing, using only the appropriate professional tools.
Throughout most of his active life, Sharon left behind piles of documents and journals, protocols, recordings and reports -- all raw, uncut material for the historian to use when determining Sharon's rightful place in the chronicles of Zionism.
From the moment he first set foot on the national stage, Sharon worked with the drive of a bulldozer, paving the way for communities of both supporters and opposers, but leaving no one indifferent. At every juncture of his public life -- in the Israel Defense Forces, the settlement movement, politics and diplomacy -- he fulfilled a central role. An entire book or thesis could be written about each and every one of his roles.
A survey of Sharon's work will reveal many different academic fields. He will appear in studies of history, government, public management, sociology, psychology, and, of course, military research. I imagine that once the love-hate storm with Sharon passes, researchers will be interested in studying two main junctures of Sharon's career:
At what point did Sharon understand -- and maybe he knew all along -- that he had cynically taken advantage of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin's innocence and lack of understanding of professional military issues, as well as his faith in Jewish generals, to guide him against his will into the First Lebanon War?
Many such claims were raised and squashed, proved and refuted in the course of Sharon's life. But as time marches on, witnesses to the circumstances say Sharon knew he was twisting Begin with falsehoods. How intentional was this? To what extent was Sharon just following events on the ground?
Not that Begin could absolve himself of responsibility for the free rein afforded to Sharon and former IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan -- rein that he, as prime minister, did not check. But how did it come about? What were the relations that left Begin groggy and vulnerable? What I've written until now is no more than the basic legwork for a fascinating, in-depth and comprehensive research paper.
The second juncture relates to Gush Katif. What really happened in the months preceding the disengagement from Gush Katif in 2005? Was Sharon aware in his election campaign, while stating "the fate of Nitzarim is the fate of Tel Aviv," that he was going to completely uproot Gush Katif? And even while he cynically mocked Amram Mitzna (Labor) and Yosef (Tommy) Lapid (Shinui), who called for evacuating just three settlements, had Sharon already decided to disengage from the entire area?
If it was all done consciously -- why? After all, former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion regularly suspected Sharon of twisting the truth and was skeptical of his credibility even in his first days in the army. Why would Sharon act this way on such a prominent matter, about which the truth would ultimately emerge? Or perhaps the entire unilateral disengagement was based on a whim, false political panic or ulterior motives that have never been clarified?
In any case, Sharon's personality plays a central role in this study, the results of which are already known. The psychological process behind it, however, is an interesting mystery. And this is just the beginning.