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Sharon's history is Israel's history

By Wolf Blitzer
CNN

In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world. Programming note: CNN's Wolf Blitzer anchors a live report from Jerusalem on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition, "The Situation Room," 7 p.m. ET.

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CNN's Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem

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Israel
Jerusalem
Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- I've been coming to Jerusalem for some 30 years. This is one of those stories that never seems to go away. As much as there have been glimmers of hope in the Israeli-Arab peace process -- the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty come to mind -- they have been too few in number.

I was on the South Lawn of the White House in September 1993 when the late Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel's prime minister, shook hands with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- brought together by then-President Bill Clinton. It was a hopeful moment, but unfortunately it was a moment that faded away over the years.

I've spent lots of time covering Ariel Sharon. I was in Beirut in 1982 during Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Sharon was then defense minister. He was always a hard-nosed warrior -- a tough Israeli who believed that Israel's only hope for survival was to fight, and to fight hard.

I actually thought that his political career was over when an Israeli governmental commission of inquiry ruled that he was indirectly responsible for the Lebanese Christian massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps near Beirut. As defense minister, the commission ruled, he should have done more to prevent the Phalangists from killing those Palestinians. But Sharon was a fighter, and he never gave up his hope of leading Israel one day.

In recent years, he seemed to have mellowed. In 2002, I emerged from an interview with him at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem shaking my head. I thought that I was hearing some surprising words from one of the architects of Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon, I thought, might find himself making decisions as prime minister that he would have opposed as a lesser political figure or a leader in the opposition. In short, he was coming across as more aware of the limits of Israel's military might.

In April of last year, when we spoke at Blair House, the official U.S. guesthouse across the street from the White House, he was worried about a civil war in Israel -- a war between Israeli Jews. That was because of his decision to pull out of Gaza and to uproot Jewish settlers and their homes. He was deeply worried. That civil war didn't happen. And in the weeks and months that followed, he lived up to his commitments.

People here in Jerusalem are now thinking about his legacy. The 77-year-old Israeli will be remembered and praised by Israelis even while being condemned by many in the Arab world. One thing goes without saying: Sharon's history is Israel's history.

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