Arafat's nemesis becomes Israeli Foreign Minister

Click to follow
ARIEL SHARON, forced to resign as defence minister 14 years ago over his role in the massacre of Palestinians in Beirut, became Israel's Foreign Minister yesterday. The move is intended to reassure the extreme right that the government will not sell them out, even if it agrees a partial withdrawal from the West Bank.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, said: "He brings a wealth of experience, creativity and a proven track record. And I think he knows the damage of war and the fruits of peace." As recently as last Sunday Mr Sharon, 70, said he would never shake the hand of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. Mr Sharon was Infrastructure Minister; Foreign Minister is the most senior post he has held since he led the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. An Israeli commission held him partly responsible for the massacre 700 Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in south Beirut. He was forced to resign next year.

His political career is based on his success as a general. In 1973 he led a counter-attack across the Suez Canal. He has always been a hero to the far right but oversaw the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai under the Camp David agreement with Egypt. He advocates settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank. His takeover of a house in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1987 was a cause of the Palestinian intifada.

As a soldier and politician Mr Sharon is regarded as a skilled tactician rather than a strategist. He helped to unite the right behind Mr Netanyahu to win the election in 1996. The Prime Minister tried to leave him out of the Cabinet but Mr Sharon outwitted him by allying himself with David Levy, then Foreign Minister. As Infrastructure Minister he built roads and townships to ensure the Palestinians never gain control of a homogenous area.