Secretary of State John Kerry honored former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a “big bear” today while dropping hints of his current quest to forge a Mideast peace deal.
Sharon died at age 85 after eight years in a stroke-induced coma.
“Ariel Sharon’s journey was Israel’s journey. The dream of Israel was the cause of his life, and he risked it all to live that dream,” Kerry said in a statement. “I remember reading about Arik in the papers when I was a young lawyer in Boston and marveling at his commitment to cause and country. I will never forget meeting with this big bear of a man when he became prime minister as he sought to bend the course of history toward peace, even as it meant testing the patience of his own longtime supporters and the limits of his own, lifelong convictions in the process. He was prepared to make tough decisions because he knew that his responsibility to his people was both to ensure their security and to give every chance to the hope that they could live in peace.”
Kerry recently visited Jerusalem to try to wrest concessions out of Israel to force the Fatah-aligned Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn the line at Kerry’s attempts to include a capital in “greater Jerusalem” for Palestinians in the framework.
“During his years in politics, it is no secret that there were times the United States had differences with him. But whether you agreed or disagreed with his positions – and Arik was always crystal clear about where he stood – you admired the man who was determined to ensure the security and survival of the Jewish State. In his final years as prime minister, he surprised many in his pursuit of peace, and today, we all recognize, as he did, that Israel must be strong to make peace, and that peace will also make Israel stronger. We honor Arik’s legacy and those of Israel’s founding generation by working to achieve that goal,” Kerry continued.
President Obama sent his condolences “on the loss of a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.”
“We reaffirm our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our appreciation for the enduring friendship between our two countries and our two peoples,” Obama said. “We continue to strive for lasting peace and security for the people of Israel, including through our commitment to the goal of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. As Israel says goodbye to Prime Minister Sharon, we join with the Israeli people in honoring his commitment to his country.”
Vice President Joe Biden announced in his statement that he would lead the U.S. delegation to Sharon’s funeral.
“Jill and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Ariel Sharon. We send our condolences to his family and to his beloved nation of Israel,” Biden said. “I look forward to leading the U.S. delegation to his memorial service, to pay respects to the man and to pay tribute to the unshakeable partnership between the United States and Israel.”
Former President George W. Bush said he was “honored to know this man of courage and call him friend.”
“He was a warrior for the ages and a partner in seeking security for the Holy Land and a better, peaceful Middle East,” Bush said.
Tributes also poured in from members of Congress on Saturday morning.
“Prime Minister Sharon was a great friend to the United States. I am honored to have known him as a friend and to have worked with him to strengthen the unbreakable bond between our two nations,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). “During these challenging times, the American people stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Israel.”
“A leader on the battlefield with few equals, Mr. Sharon also showed tremendous courage as prime minister,” said Republican Study Committee chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.). “Although his loss is difficult, we can all celebrate the many achievements he made on behalf of the Jewish state of Israel and her many friends including America. Ariel Sharon’s legacy will endure for ages.”
“May he now find the shalom he always sought for the land of our ancestors,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).