The man dispatched to represent Canada at memorial services for Ariel Sharon says the former Israeli prime minister understood that security is a necessary precursor to peace.
Chris Alexander, the federal Immigration Minister and a former ambassador to Afghanistan, made a quick flight to Israel on Saturday, the day after Mr. Sharon's death, to attend two services on Monday. The first, at Israel's parliament, included U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and former British prime minister Tony Blair. The second was held at Mr. Sharon's beloved ranch in Israel's southern desert.
"It was particularly moving to be part of two ceremonies today for someone of the stature of Ariel Sharon, a staunch defender of his country, the architect of modern Israel in many ways, whose life is coincident with, coeval with, the country itself," Mr. Alexander said in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail as he started the trip home.
In life, Mr. Sharon was both revered and reviled, known as the Bulldozer in Israel for his support for building settlements in the West Bank and the Butcher among Palestinians for his strong-arm tactics. He was a primary force in the construction of the modern state of Israel and a war hero to his people. He was also a promoter of the settlement movement, though he presided over the controversial eviction of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. which has been a barrier to peace and which earned him the nickname of the Bulldozer. He resigned as the Israeli defence minister in 1983 after a Christian militia allied with Israel massacred Palestinians at two Lebanese refugee camps.
Mr. Alexander said he believes the world is coming to understand the necessity of Mr. Sharon's hard line.
"He understood that you could not have peace without providing for Israel's security and providing for it in a robust way. And that's why he went to such great lengths influencing the very emergence of the Israeli defence forces, playing a role in these wars, playing a role in combatting terrorism, almost without equal in Israel's history, before he started going down the path to peace," Mr. Alexander said.
Canada hopes that the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is overseeing will be successful, Mr. Alexander said.
"We want all parties to come back to the table without preconditions," Mr. Alexander said. "But Sharon shows that it is a difficult path. And without security for Israel, it is not a path that Israelis will be willing to travel because they have achieved success in their country – democracy, economic success – that no one else in the region has."
Not all Canadians have supported the Conservative government's strong pro-Israeli stance – one that has been more unwavering and uncritical than that of Canada's closest allies. But Canadians must understand the challenges faced by Israel, a country whose existence as an independent state is not yet universally recognized, Mr. Alexander said.
"Most of the international community wanted this state to be here way back in 1947 and '48 when it was created. Others have held out that long against this idea, this principle, this policy that we have all embraced," he said. "You cannot have peace unless you have agreed borders with your neighbour. And you certainly can't have that kind of discussion, negotiation, with neighbours who aren't willing to recognize that you exist."