World leaders reacted with sorrow Saturday to the passing of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, hailing him for his contribution to the peace process and the brave decisions for which they said his premiership will be remembered.
US President Barack Obama praised “a leader who dedicated his life to the State of Israel.” In a White House statement, Obama said: “On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to the family of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to the people of Israel.” The statement reaffirmed “our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. 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.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a warm statement, highlighting Sharon’s readiness to take tough decisions: “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,” said Kerry. “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.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “saddened” by the passing of the 85-year-old leader, who he said was “a hero to his people” throughout “a life dedicated to the State of Israel,” both as a soldier and a statesman.
“Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip,” said Ban, referring to the controversial 2005 disengagement initiated by Sharon.
“His successor faces the difficult challenge of realizing the aspirations of peace between the Israeli and Palestinian people,” said Ban, calling on Israel’s leadership to build on Sharon’s “legacy of pragmatism” in order to word towards “the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel.”
Ban then reiterated the UN’s commitment to working alongside Israel towards peace and security in the region.
British Prime Minister David Cameron eulogized Sharon as well, saying in a statement that the deceased leader was “one of the most significant figures in Israeli history.”
Sharon, he said, would be remembered for the “brave and controversial decisions” he took for the sake of peace before falling comatose in 2006.
“Israel has today lost an important leader,” Cameron concluded.
French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, praised Sharon for decided “to turn to dialogue with the Palestinians” after a long military career.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Sharon a “renowned military leader” who “pursued the security of Israel with unyielding determination that was recognized by friends and foes alike.”
Harper said Sharon, with his leadership and vision, was “one of the architects of modern day Israel and one of the nation’s staunchest defenders.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin “highly praised Ariel Sharon’s personal qualities and his activities to protect Israel’s interests, noting a high respect for him among compatriots and his high authority in the international arena.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “mourning with the Israeli people” for Sharon. “With his courageous decision to withdraw the Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, he took a historic step on the path to a deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution,” Merkel’s spokesman said.
Former US president Bill Clinton said Sharon “gave his life to Israel.” In a joint statement, Clinton and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said: “It was an honor to work with him, argue with him, and watch him always trying to find the right path for his beloved country.
“Ariel Sharon gave his life to Israel — to bring it into being, to sustain and preserve it, and at the end of his long service, to create a new political party committed to both a just peace and lasting security,” the Clintons said.