The Knesset held a special plenary sitting Monday evening in memory of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on the second anniversary of his passing, in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin and Sharon`s sons and other family members. Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein opened the session with a moment of silence in Sharon`s memory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) said, ”In uniform or out of uniform, Sharon left a deep mark on Israel`s heritage,” adding that the deceased leader had dealt with security challenges ”from the beginning to the end.” The Yom Kippur War, Netanyahu said, cemented Sharon`s status as ”one of the greatest IDF commanders ever.”

”A decade and a half ago, there were two developments which affected one another. The first was the murderous terror wave during which more than 1,000 Israelis were murdered. Operation `Defensive Shield` dealt a deep blow to the terror infrastructures, and we are preserving the achievements of that operation with an active IDF which maintains its right to operate in the heart of Palestinian territory,” Netanyahu told the plenum.

Knesset holds special plenary sitting in memory of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, on the 2nd anniversary of his passing

PM Ariel Sharon (archive photo)

”The second development was the intensifying threat to the free world posed by radical Islam. We are still facing this challenge today. We will not accept nuclear weapons in Iran`s hands; we will not allow it to open new terror fronts; and we will not permit the transfer of dangerous weapons to those who [seek to harm us]. Sharon left the public stage under unexpected circumstances. In the decade that has passed since then, the Middle East has changed its appearance in a far-reaching way. A diplomatic agreement which has held for 100 years is currently collapsing. In Gaza we got a Hamas terror base adjacent to our territory.” The PM said handing over the governing powers in Gaza to the Palestinians did not put Israel on the path to peace, and merely intensified the armament of the terror organizations. ”Our duty is to draw the necessary lessons, at least from this episode,” he stated.

”Our hope lies in the strength Arik (Sharon) nurtured and believed in, and it ensures our existence and future,” added Netanyahu.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp) said that during his last term in office Sharon ”identified the demographic threat. Identified, spoke and did. He saw a million and a half Palestinians in Gaza who were growing in numbers, and decided to disengage from them, so that they would not be a part of Israel; to preserve the State of Israel as a Jewish country. I hear all those who want to annex Judea and Samaria, with the Palestinians, to the State of Israel. They continue to attack Ariel Sharon over the disengagement from Gaza, but, interestingly enough, I do not hear any one of them suggest that we return to Gaza.”

Herzog said that after decades of fighting for Israel`s security, Sharon realized that ”in order to stop the flow of terrorists into Israeli territory, we must build a wall between us and them. The security fence was not merely a security-based decision; it was, first and foremost, a strategic and diplomatic decision, and its dramatic effects on the security of Israel`s citizens are felt and will be felt for many years to come.”

Edelstein noted Sharon`s work in the field of immigrant absorption. ”His important decision to offer an absorption package to every oleh (immigrant) encouraged the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora,” said the Knesset speaker.

”At a time when we are witnessing growing anti-Semitism in the world, extensive activity on the part of elements of the [BDS movement], and the terror of radical Islam sweeping over Europe, we can hope that Jews from all over the world will return and see Israel as their home,” he added.

”There were also people, such as myself, who were torn between their great appreciation for [Sharon] – including his commitment to settlement and building – and the sadness and great disappointment of those who love the [Land of Israel] since he turned his back to the settlement [enterprise] in 2005 and ordered the destruction of Gush Katif and northern Samaria.”

However, the Knesset speaker declared, even the disengagement cannot take away from Sharon`s ”persistent willingness to be at the forefront of the fight for the defense of our country.”