Ariel Sharon- His Illness and what it means
Ariel Sharon- His Illness and what it means
The massive cerebral hemorrhage suffered by Israeli PM Ariel Sharon is clearly the most significant even in the recent history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, but nobody is really able to say what the significance is.
Before his stroke, Sharon was slated by all accounts to sweep to victory at the head of the Kadima party in the next elections, with about 40 mandates. A quick poll showed that if Sharon is incapacitated, the Likud party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu would get 16 mandates, Labor 18 and the Kadima party would get 13 mandates, with 36 mandates undecided. This reflects the situation: nobody knows what to think. Remarkably, neither Likud nor Labor gained any apparent support.
Sharon's medical condition is uncertain. Hadassah hospital announced that he is being maintained under anesthesia and artificial respiration for the next 24 hours to reduce intracranial pressure, and emphasized that this is a normal procedure following massive stroke. However, given the fact that surgeons worked for about 8 or 9 hours to stop intracranial bleeding, it is probable that there was significant irreversible damage to cerebral function. It is unlikely that he will be able to continue in his duties. Despite the announcement of the General Manager of Hadassah, Professor Mor Yosef, rumors persist that Sharon's condition is very poor, and there was even a rumor that he had died. However, Yair Lapid reminds us that Sharon is a very tough and cynical fighter, who has won many battles against high odds, and would probably take pride in reading his own obituary.
Sharon's illness elicited remarkable concern from Arab leaders. The respect he has woe is a measure of the long road that he covered in a very short time, from "butcher of Jenin" and "butcher of Sabra and Shatila" to being the architect of disengagement and the first Israeli Prime Minister to evacuate settlements. To be sure, there were barbaric expressions of delight by PFLP leader Jibril and militants in Rafiah handed out candy.
Sharon's stroke removed almost the last positive certainty in the Israeli-Palestinian political scene. It seemed that he was we politically indestructible. News reports of evidence of massive corruption did not hurt him. After his first stroke, the standing of his Kadima party actually improved in the polls. Had Sharon been elected, it was virtually certain that he would continue the unilateral disengagement policy, withdrawing from significant chunks of the West Bank and setting the "permanent border of Israel" in the neighborhood of the path of the security fence. This plan was leaked to the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, and Sharon himself hinted at it broadly in a statement just before he was stricken. This move would have gotten de facto tacit approval from the United States and probably from the EU, though it is quite doubtful that it would get the official US recognition that Sharon had sought.
The reason for this policy is not hard to understand. Most Israelis have realized that it is not possible, practical or reasonable to continue occupying large portions of Palestinian land. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is no organized Palestinian society or political organization that can negotiate and guarantee a peace agreement. Anesthetized in hospital, Sharon probably has better control of Israel then the apparently healthy Mahmoud Abbas has over his Palestinian Authority. Kidnappings, shootings, election irregularities, Hamas threats and random firing of Kassam rockets mark the descent of the Palestinian society into religion and barbarism. Yesterday, Fateh extremists grabbed a bulldozer and destroyed a part of the wall between Egypt and Gaza at the Rafiah border crossing. In the ensuing riot and stampede, two Egyptian soldiers were murdered and many more were injured. Palestinian elections, if they are held, would probably result in a government dominated by or dependent upon the extremist Hamas movement, which probably would not even pretend to want to negotiate a reasonable settlement.
Whatever happens, Sharon will be credited with doing three 'impossible' things:
1. He left behind his own settler oriented Greater Israel constituency and successfully took a new path dictated by reality.
2. He removed Israeli settlers from Gaza
3. Though he did not do much to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he made a significant contribution to transforming the conflict from an essentially ideological clash with the entire Arab and Muslim world to a local brush war between Palestinians and Israelis. If this movement continues, it will be an achievement of enormous importance.
He has had enough time to show what is possible, but it is not clear if he or anyone else can complete the work.
Sharon's way and his departure from the Likud was much more than a momentary political disagreement. It signaled a fundamental change in Israeli society and Zionist ideology, a return to the pragmatic politics exemplified by the Mapai party of David Ben Gurion. More than a disengagement from territories, it was a disengagement from an ideology of Messianism and Greater Israel. Sharon was able to take skillful advantage of a very bad international political situation, and perhaps the worst possible relations with the Palestinians, to nonetheless make a positive step for peace. His policy has contributed in no small measure to bringing out a momentous change in the way the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed in the Middle East. A recent poll shows that Arabs no longer rate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the top issue in the Middle East. From being a regional or global issue, an Israeli-Arab-Muslim conflict, it is gradually and subtly being reduced to a local conflict.
Ironically, in a way, of all political leaders in recent years, Sharon came the closest to "continuing in the path of Rabin." In the long run, the return to the original mission of Zionism as a secular and pragmatic nationalist movement is an inevitable dictate of reality. In the short term however, it is not clear that anyone other than a Rabin or Sharon has the leadership abilities needed to carry this program with the Israeli public.
The only thing certain now is that nothing is certain. If the political system can reflect the desires of the Israeli public, Israel will elect a government that attempts to continue the policies of Sharon. Kadima is a new party built essentially around one man. Who can take over? Both Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Ohlmert seem capable of leadership. However, many would have been thought capable of ruling, had they not ruled. Shimon Peres is a known quantity, and if politics were logical, he might be the logical successor. Like Sharon, he is one of the "irreplaceable" founding fathers of Israel. However, it is unlikely that he, or anyone else who is not Ariel Sharon, could assert control over Kadima, a motley collection of ex-Likud members, ex-Labor members, former leftists and former settler leaders, and once and future opportunists. Benjamin Netanyahu is also a known quantity, known and apparently loathed by most Israelis. The Likud however, has a relatively large election budget from public funds, because it was a large party in the last elections - only 14 MKs left to join Kadima. It is in the best position to shelter refugees from Kadima and offer a welcome to returning prodigal sons. Amir Peretz, newly crowned leader of the Labor party, is a political novice. He has promising ideas, but he has not succeeded in navigating the alligator-infested waters of the Labor party swamp.
When a giant tree falls in the forest, it creates an upheaval.
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See also Biography of Ariel Sharon Zionism and its Impact Biography of Ehud Olmert Ariel Sharon's Last Interview before his stroke After Ariel Sharon - History Interrupted
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