On the whole, Palestinians are shedding no tears for the man referred to as the "butcher", reviled in Gaza and elsewhere for evicting thousands of Palestinians from their homes and overseeing many massacres.  

 

The Islamic resistance group, Hamas, strong contenders in this month's Palestinian legislative elections, said the region is better off without Sharon. The Islamic Jihad was even blunter, telling Aljazeera that he could go to hell for all it cared. 

 

Still, there is a good deal of anxiety on the Palestinian street.

 

Demolitions

 

Nabil Shaath, the deputy Palestinian prime minister, said he did not believe that Sharon ever had any faith in the peace process, but his removal from it would nevertheless increase uncertainty over the resumption of negotiations.

Sharon leaves a legacy of destruction in Rafah, the southern Gaza Strip border town in which 16,000 of its residents lost their homes to armoured Israeli bulldozers under his rule during the past five years.

 

Sharon oversaw the demolition
of thousands of Rafah homes

Akram Salah, 39, is unemployed and has eight children. His  home in Rafah was demolished last year.

 

"Let me tell you something about Sharon," he told Aljazeera.net. "Opinions on peace and how to achieve it differ from politician to politician. But the only language Sharon knew was the language of destruction and war. My entire life's work was destroyed by Sharon in one night.

 

"He did not have any ability to give and take like some other Israeli politicians. His entire policy was based on violence. And violence only breeds violence here in Palestine. All we can hope for now is that someone better will replace him - someone who at the very least understands our concerns as a Palestinian people."

 

Others, such as Abo Hasan, a Palestinian stockbroker, were more pragmatic and sober in their assessment of what was to come. Hasan said that although his history was tainted, Sharon's status as a "war hero" gave him the credibility within Israeli society that other figures lacked.  

 

Abo Hasan lost his home in Rafah when an entire neighbourhood was knocked down under Sharon's orders in the 1970s to clear an easily navigable road for military vehicles.

 

"The first thing that occurred to me when I heard the news is that I realised that we as Palestinians will suffer setbacks," he said.

 

"He is the last of the generation of giants that could make decisions without being questioned. I think now it will be more difficult and dangerous, at least until a prominent personality emerges in Israel that is able to negotiate with the Palestinians and give them back a small portion of their rights."  

 

Sharon's road

 

Sharon was put in charge of curbing Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip in 1971 when Golda Meir was prime minister.

 

More than 100 Palestinians were killed, hundreds of others were detained and about 900 refugee families were left homeless. The path he cleared to hunt down Palestinian resistance fighters is still known as "Sharon's road".

 

"It's true he represented absolute brutality for us, but this is death in the end"

Abo Hasan,
Palestinian stockbroker

Nevertheless, Abo Hasan said he does not take pleasure in the suffering of others, that he is neither jubilant nor sad, but concerned as to what the future might hold.

"It's true he represented absolute brutality for us, but this is death in the end," Hasan said. "I can't say I'm sad but neither can I say I enjoyed it."

In his latter years, Sharon has been praised, most prominently by the American president, as a "man of peace" for his unilateral decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip and dismantle some of the illegal settlements that he helped found in Gaza and the West Bank. 

Unilateral decisions 

Ghazi Hamad, a Palestinian analyst, takes issue with the characterisation.

 

"He ignored what's called a Palestinian partner and believed only in imposing unilateral solutions," Hamad said. "Even the withdrawal of Gaza - he did that for the interest of Israel."

 

He said that he regarded Sharon as "the main obstacle" in any road to peace.

 

Other Palestinians agreed, saying any idea of Sharon having worked for peace was "an illusion".

Yosra Sawali, another resident of Gaza City, said: "He is credited with taking steps towards peace, but it was an illusion. The sonic booms, the shelling - it's as if they never left, or worse. Like they simply moved from one chair to another. We want peace, yes, but a real peace."

Sharon is most notorious for his role in the massacres of hundreds of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in Beirut, Lebanon. He was also responsible for a bloodbath in a village called Qibya, near Jerusalem, in which 69 Palestinians - half of them women and children - were killed in their homes in 1953.

No matter their view on "the bulldozer" and his controversial legacy, there is a consensus among Palestinians and Israelis that the current political climate between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government will depend to a large extent on changes on the Israeli political front. 

 

Political projections

 

Sharon's new party, Kadima, is considered by many to be a "one-man show", built around a personality rather than an ideology. According to Yossi Alpher, an Israeli analyst and former adviser to Ehud Barak when he was prime minister, it now threatens to unravel to an uncertain future.

 

Shimon Peres is being eyed with
Sharon's departure from politics

"Potentially this is a blow to Kadima because it was a party built around Sharon," Alpher said. "So there is a possibility that we will see more open elections in Israel, that there is a chance for Likud and Labour to do better than predicted until now. The outcome is not so much a foregone conclusion and this opens all kinds of possibilities, from Peres on the left to Netanyahu on the right.

 

"This is also a blow for unilateral disengagement, which is what most people were expecting Sharon to do. And why people supported him, and why they were prepared to support Kadima. It's not easy to imagine [Ehud] Olmert actually carrying out another disengagement and having the stamina and staying power and political tactical finesse to make it happen."

 

In the end, Alpher believes it unlikely that any kind of peace negotiations will resume in the coming year. Palestinians, he says, will not gain from Sharon's misfortune.

 

He said: "I know there are plenty who are happy to be rid of Sharon, but on the other hand in his later years while he didn't have any real commitments to peace, he did have a commitment to ending the occupation and this is more than they would have got under any other Israeli minister."