Former PM Ariel Sharon
Former PM Ariel SharonIsrael news photo: (file)

Ron Nachman, the mayor of the Samaria town of Ariel, announced Monday that the city he leads will now be named after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The city will keep its current name, but the explanation behind the name will change.

The city council's decision has been sent to the state “Name Committee” for final approval.

The decision to name the town after former prime minister Sharon was seen as unusual, in part because Sharon is still alive. The former national leader has been comatose since January 2006.

Nachman explained that the decision to name the town after Sharon was initiated by Sharon's son Gilad, and was taken with the Sharon family's support. Gilad visited Ariel and mentioned to Nachman that his family would be interested in somehow commemorating the former prime minister in the town, Nachman said.

In addition to the name change, the city will be providing a home for the Ariel Sharon Center for the Study of Settlement and Leadership, 1882 to the Present. Planners of the center hope it will draw students and tourists.

Some might see the decision to name the city after former PM Sharon as unusual for a second reason: Sharon was behind the 2005 “Disengagement” in which Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria were destroyed, while Ariel is located in Samaria and is currently home to many Jewish families that were expelled from Gaza by Sharon's government.

Nachman explained that he saw no conflict between his town's location and Sharon's policies. While Sharon initiated the Disengagement, he was still a leading figure in Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, and his later actions do not erase his accomplishments in that area, the mayor said.

Nachman also gave another, more practical reason that naming itself after Ariel Sharon would be good for the city. “I'd like to see Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton try to destroy a place named after Ariel Sharon,” he said.