When Ariel Sharon slipped into a coma in January 2006, The Spectator was just beginning to rather like him. Days after his stroke, the magazine ran a piece arguing that Sharon’s legacy would be ‘not his military exploits but his final major political act: unilateral withdrawal from Gaza’. Douglas Davis described Gaza as a lawless gangland where terrorism was the major growth industry. Yasser Arafat had sown the seeds of anarchy and Mahmoud Abbas was too weak to do anything about it. ‘The terror war appears to be on the verge of entering a new, more dangerous, phase,’ he wrote. ‘Israelis have cause to be grateful that Sharon dragged them out when he did.’
Before 2006, The Spectator would have often made less comfortable reading for Ariel Sharon. Discussing the very same policy in 2004, the Labour MP Gerald Kaufman took a hard line. ‘Almost exactly two years ago in the House of Commons I described Ariel Sharon as a “war criminal”. I added that, even worse, he was a fool. That verdict has been emphasised by the Dead Sea fruit that he bore away from Washington with such triumphalism.’ Sharon, he said, was paying lip service to a peace settlement while undermining it at every turn by continuing mass settlement on the West Bank.
Christopher Hitchens, with his usual exhilarating indignation, also complained in the early ‘80s about Israeli hypocrisy and lack of accountability. ‘It is said officially that the West judges Israel by higher standards than it applies elsewhere. Through this ingenious logic, the whole expropriation of Palestinian land and life seems, in a way, to confirm Israeli propaganda.’ Sharon was an enthusiastic proponent of Israeli expansion – when he was foreign minister in 1998, he told Israeli radio that ‘Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours… Everything we don’t grab will go to them.’