WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave a farewell interview to the CBS television network, in which she elaborated on former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "He became someone that I admired enormously," she said.
During the interview, Rice was asked if there was a foreign leader who really surprised her. She immediately replied, "Probably Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel. He’s a – he has is a very tough exterior. He’s a general, not known as someone who was coming to make peace, but rather as someone who came in 2001 to defeat the intifada, and that was very much his image," she noted.
"But as I got to know him over time, he really was somebody who I think had made a strategic decision that Israel had to divide the land, that Israel would be better off when there was a Palestinian state. And he had a very charming side to him."
Intimate meeting with a sheep. Rice and Sharon (Photo: Reuters)
Rice went on to recount her visit to Sharon's Sycamore Ranch, where he wanted to show her his sheep.
"I thought, your sheep? All right, whatever you say, but I’m a city girl. And so we went out and he introduced me to his sheep. I’d never actually been up close and personal with a sheep before," she said.
"And then several weeks later, maybe even a couple of months later, and just before he had the debilitating stroke, we were on the phone and I said to him, I said, so how are your sheep? And he said, well, they miss you. And I thought, my goodness, this is not what I expected."
Rice made it clear in the interview that Sharon was not the type of person to have the usual diplomatic chitchat with. She recounted how he made the strategic decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, adding that "he became someone that I admired enormously".
'We left Middle East in a much better shape'
Addressing Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip, Rice said, "We helped to see Israeli forces leave Gaza, the first time that Israel had really, with the Palestinians, given back occupied territory. We worked hard. Unfortunately, the Palestinians weren’t really ready to take responsibility in Gaza. And we know how that has turned out."
She noted that Sharon suffered a stroke not too long after Hamas gained control of Gaza, an event which prompted US President George W. Bush to convene the Annapolis peace conference. She claimed that the Bush administration was leaving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a much better shape than it found it.
"We were confronted with the second intifada raging and with suicide bombs not in the West Bank, but in Tel Aviv. We were confronted with large-scale Israeli military operations that ended up blowing a hole by mistake in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and countless Palestinian deaths, as well."
"We’re leaving this in a lot better shape than we found it. We’re leaving a negotiating forum where Palestinians and Israelis have said they have confidence that they will reach agreement.
"Palestinian security forces are taking responsibility in places like Jenin and Nablus and Hebron, the West Bank economy is growing for the first time in a number of years, and Palestinian – decent Palestinian institutions of governance are going up," Rice concluded.