Israeli newspapers published special editions Monday to mark the beginning Passover. The largest papers also featured wide-ranging interviews with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in which he addressed his plans to pull out of Gaza, expressed confidence that the corruption charges against him would prove baseless, and issued not-very-veiled threats to Yasser Arafat.
Yediot Ahronot played its Sharon interview prominently, featuring such juicy outtakes as "I don't guarantee Arafat's safety" and "My sons aren't kindergarteners."
After half a century in the public eye, Sharon remains an enigma, wrote Ma'ariv in the opening lines of its version of the holiday interview. "At 76, it is still hard to determine who the real Ariel Sharon is. What does he want and why, where is he headed to and why. Or when." The interview then probed Sharon's intentions on various topics.
On the disengagement plan:
The plan's outline is to evacuate the Gaza Strip, all of it, except the border area between the Strip and Egypt, the Philadelphi corridor. The defense establishment demanded this exception in view of the massive arms smuggling. I have also discussed this with the Egyptians.
On destroying Israeli settlers' homes:
That is extremely hard. Hard for the settlers, some of whom have already had grandchildren there. It is very hard for me too. I gave much thought to the issue until I reached the conclusion that part of the settlement enterprise, in Gaza probably the entire one, would eventually have to be evacuated. I said this even prior to my first term in office.
Ma'ariv: True, but no one took you seriously.
Let me give you a piece of advice: Take me seriously. I said it in the clearest of terms. … It is a difficult decision, one that caused me a great deal of pain. But it must be done and I hold the responsibility.
On targeted killings:
The attack against [Hamas founder Sheik] Ahmed Yassin [who was killed by Israel last month] wasn't the first. … There are many successful operations but there are also those which failed. The battle against the leadership of terror will continue.
Ma'ariv: Is the promise you gave President Bush regarding Arafat's safety still in effect?
In the past I accepted that obligation, not to harm him physically. … Today, everyone knows just how harmful he is.
Ma'ariv: So why does Israel not assassinate him?
Sharon: I wouldn't advise Arafat to view himself as having an insurance policy He doesn't.
On his own political future, and the attorney general's impending decision on whether to prosecute him for alleged corruption:
My hands are clean, and therefore I am awaiting the attorney general's decision calmly. I believe I am innocent and therefore estimate no charges will eventually be filed.
Ma'ariv: Do you think you will run for election again?
If necessary, absolutely, why not? The truth is I wouldn't mind going back to the only thing I am deeply attached to: Tilling the land, riding horses and driving a tractor through the fields.
Calling all matzo: A Jerusalem Post columnist assessed the symbolism of the unleavened bread Jews eat at this time of year. Noting that it tastes "just slightly more delectable than the box it comes in," he wrote that "matzo recalls our lowly status in the Exile and provides us with a healthy helping of humility. … When the call came to exit Egypt we responded immediately, enthusiastically, energetically. We did not wait a moment longer than necessary, not even those few minutes for our bread to rise."
Tying the matzo to Israel's present-day reality, the column continued: "I wish we had leaders who embodied these matzo-like qualities: humility and self-assuredness. Sometimes we get one, but rarely both, and yet it is only when they are combined into one—well, matzo—that we achieve greatness.