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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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Replies: 9 comments
I disagree with your assessment of there being no peace partner among the Palestinians. Even Henry Seigmann noted recently that if the Israelis wanted a peace partner they could get one. Sharon however couldn't accept a man like Yasser Arafat who would of ask for more than 90% of the West Bank and a state that would be equal to Israel at least to some degree. His dream was in fact an apartheid. Modified to look like two states. He did not want to give the Jordan Valley neither did he want to various settlements. He wanted a Palestinian state to be economically crippled by settlement placement and checkpoints. In the end he was a strong man and certainly one of the best politicians in Mideast history. The Palestinians now must ask themselves what to do next. Having been paralyzed by Sharon convincing the world that onle Israel and not the Palestinians can make peace, the Palestinians sit as the world condems them for everything. Even at times were peace was close such as Taba, the Palestinians are blamed for everything. Now they must prove that an entire conflict cannot logically be the fault of one side. Especailly since this conflict is quite old.
Also the surpise warmth towards Israel from Egypt and Jordan and perhaps other Arab leaders is not neccessarly out belief in the peace proccess but a way to divert American pressure to accept democracy. This was recently said in USA Today that many Arab leaders seek good relations with Israel to avoid democratic pressure. In other words the Arab public loses a chance for democracy in return for peace with Israel. In many ways American policies inthe Middle East help change the nature of what is important in the Middle East rather than Israel who took advantage of US involvement in the Middle East in recent years.
Posted by Butros Dahu @ 01/05/2006 08:10 PM CST
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/06/2006 01:59 PM CST
It is a time in which certainty is unavailable. However, in the immediate absence of the Father Figure, it appears that Ehud Olmert is drawing broad support from his major Kadima partners and taking the domestic, security and international steps necessary to enable the new Party under his leadership to emerge and move "Forward" to the March elections. Old men and Prime Ministers sometimes have the opportunity to look out on the world with new eyes that bring the perspective of a lifetime of experience. Ariel Sharon seemed to finally see the real needs of Israel through the thicket of bombings, and settlements, and assasinations, and closures and tribal disputes that have marked the lives of all the children of Abraham over the past 100 years. As a result he rose above the choruses of hatred, fear and vengence and laid the groundwork for a unilateral separation demarked by disengagement, a wall and a new Party freed from the constraints of Likud to finish his vision of the first generation of a comprehensive peace between the two peoples. I pray that Israelis have the wisdom to sanctify his vision in the ballot box.
Posted by Larry Snider @ 01/07/2006 03:39 PM CST
Posted by Butros Dahu @ 01/07/2006 10:47 PM CST
For the first time in my living memory, these coming Israeli elections, will in my opinion, be 'normal' that is decided over economic issues rather than the diplomatic - arab - Israeli conflict. Palestinian elections, whether they take place or not (unless they do and Hamas is discovered to be unpopular after all) will make the whole issure mute.
Posted by Robert Tiden @ 01/08/2006 11:59 PM CST
Posted by Rod Davies @ 01/09/2006 10:59 AM CST
With your remarks that Sharon caused the second intifada while Arafat tried to avoid it,and that the Palestinians wanted to negotiate while Israel didn't, you seem to contradict your own statement that the entire conflict cannot be the fault of one side. In fact, Arafat and others of the PA regalarly made inciting statements in support of the intifada. In 2002, Israel captured documents that proved how much Arafat and the PA were involved in terrorism.
Posted by Ratna @ 01/09/2006 09:37 PM CST
For the record - one of the recent examples of mythification in history is the vicious rumor -- believed all over the Middle East, that Ariel Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa mosque. Sharon did not enter any mosque. It is a lie invented by people who wanted to bring about death and destruction and they succeeded. We should be careful never to spread this lie.
Posted by Moderator @ 01/11/2006 05:21 PM CST
What you all are suggesting is that the Palestinians must provide security but for what in return? While times have not been perfectly quiet as Henry Seigmann noted Israeli settlemnt building as well slow movements on the peace proccess which created an unease in the region. This unease needed only a spark to set it off. Sharon knew he could it off and exploited it. If peace was completely destroyed then why did Barak continue to negotiate after the outbrake of the second intifada? Sharon came into power and therefore refused to continue to negotiate. In fact even up till recently he said negotiations with the Palestinians won't begin until years to come.
Sharon's vision was to force a settlement. One with Strong Israeli state and a weak Palestinian one if it could even be called state. He did nopt want to give up the Jordan valley he wanted checkpoints and enclaves.He wanted to leave the territories and never really leave the territories. In many ways he followed the path of South Africa. Demanding elections in the Palestinian cantons just like whites allowed elections in the black banstantuns of South Africa to legitimize their aparthied. In many ways it may lead to nothing than a repeat of history. The population between non-Jews and Jews is but a few thousand in both israeland the territories. What Sharon may have done maybe be nothing more than stalling for time.
Posted by Butros Dahu @ 01/14/2006 09:42 PM CST
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