Israel's Controversial Former Leader Ariel Sharon in Critical Condition

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 85, a divisive leader who spent years as a military hawk before shifting his political views to the left, is in critical condition.

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a coma for nearly eight years has taken a turn for the worse and is now in critical condition. Sharon, who is 85, suffered a debilitating stroke in January of 2006, has been comatose ever since. 

The New York Times reports that a spokesman for Tel HaShomer hospital in Israel, where Sharon has spent the majority of his time, said on Wednesday that "there has been a deterioration in his medical condition.” Today a director at the hospital, Zeev Rotstein said that "[Sharon] is suffering problems in a number of organs," and that he has not undergone dialysis due to his frail state. Rotstein added, per Ha'aretz:

[Sharon] is a very strong man; he has come out of difficult situations during the period that he has been in our hospital. However, both the doctors who are treating him, as well as family members who are with him… all feel that there has been a change for the worse. Everyone feels that this deterioration is very serious. We have no way of knowing how much time he has left. 

Sharon reportedly spent two weeks in intensive care last month and was since stabilized, but now is experiencing kidney failure. One source said on Wednesday that Sharon is expected to pass within a few days, and that his family is at his bedside.

Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel in 2001 after spending several years rising through the ranks of the Israeli Defense Force and serving as the country's agricultural and defense minister, as well as military adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was in office when he fell ill. During his stint as prime minister, Sharon advocated for a U.S., EU, Russia and U.N.-backed road map for peace which called for Israel to pull back settlements in the West Bank. In 2003, he criticized the controversial practice of setting up Jewish villages on Palestinian land, a major point of contention in the region to this day, calling the settlements a form of "occupation." Sharon said in May of that year,

You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation - to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians... "It can't continue endlessly. Do you want to stay forever in Jenin, in Nablus, in Ramallah, in Bethlehem? I don't think that's right.

But Sharon's critics say any moves toward peace are overshadowed by his violent history. Sharon, then the country's defense minister, was found to be indirectly responsible for the deaths of roughly 2,000 Palestinians in Beirut in 1982 as a result of Israel's invasion of the country. The incident prompted his resignation and earned him the title the "Butcher of Beirut" in the Arab World. He has also been blamed for instigating the Second Intifada by visiting the Temple Mount, a holy mosque in Jerusalem, in a perceived slight to the city's religious Muslim community. Foreign Policy argues that even his peace-making legacy is overrated:

Sharon's path would not have led to a lasting peace. Although his supporters hail him as the man who broke the taboo on dismantling settlements and ceding occupied Palestinian land, his more fundamental legacy was to show that there is a way for Israel to move forward without negotiating with the Palestinians. He also made it less likely for there to be anyone Israel is willing to negotiate with. His actions arguably contributed to Hamas victory in the Palestinian election on January 25. Sharon thus set in motion a process that may bring about a Palestinian state of sorts, but not an end to the conflict.

Still, Sharon's efforts seem to have brought the region closer to peace than recent attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who may approve more settlements in the coming weeks.

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