As I'm sure you've heard by now, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has suffered a massive stroke and is hanging on to life. Even if he survives, his political career is over. It's not clear whether his fledgling centrist political party, Kadima, can survive without him. On the one hand, public opinion polls in Israel show that the new party is popular, even if Sharon is not at its helm. On the other hand, the party does not have any credible popular leaders besides Sharon. Sharon's second in command, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is an experienced politician but is not especially popular or charismatic. The other famous member of Sharon's party is former Prime Minister from the Labor Party Shimon Peres
, who is 83 years old, a little old for leading a brand new party.
I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by Sharon's actions in office. I expected him to be a hardliner on the Palestinian issue, like his fellow Likud Party member Benjamin Netanyahu
. This impression is partly due to my (perhaps false) interpretation of Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount as an intentional provocation to the Palestinians. (According to some reports
, the Palestinian violence in 2000 was in the works long beforehand, and was not a response to Sharon's visit.) But Sharon has made a number of unilateral moves in the direction of peace, such as giving up the Gaza Strip. These moves made Sharon unpopular in his own conservative Likud Party while earning him new respect from some progressives in Israel and in Europe. However, among Arabs, Sharon was never able to overcome the stigma from his role in the massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon in 1982
An interesting pair of quotes about Sharon:
"We say it frankly that God is great and is able to exact revenge on this butcher. ... We thank God for this gift he presented to us on this new year," (Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Syrian-backed faction Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine).
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"God has enmity against those who divide my land. For any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, `No, this is mine,'" (Evangelist and 700 Club Founder Pat Robertson)