Sharons stroke raises big question marks

Commentary

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a cerebral hemorrhage Jan. 4, resulting in a severe stroke. Paramedics rushed Sharon from his ranch in the Negev Desert to a Jerusalem hospital for life-saving surgery. Three operations later, things are not looking good for the gruff old general whom the West and Israel naively labeled “a man of peace.” At press time, Sharon’s condition remained stable but serious.

Pundits and analysts are already grabbing pen and pad to jot down their assessment. Many believe Sharon’s political career is over. Haaretz correspondent Aluf Benn stated, “Even if he does recover, he will have a very hard time convincing the public of his ability to serve four more years, after undergoing two strokes in two and a half weeks.”

YNet contributor Attila Somfalvi was more forthright: “Following the prime minister’s stroke, nothing will bring him back into the political game: Not the surging popularity, not the concern and aching heart of the public, and not even the waves of sympathy.”

Prior to the stroke, and despite fresh corruption charges against him, Sharon’s political career was strong as ever. He was running a one-man show going into the March 28 elections with his new Kadima (Forward) party. Major polls showed he was a shoo-in. Now the question becomes: Where is Israel headed?

On the right you have the hard-line Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud strongman dished out harsh criticism of Sharon and his “timid” policies concerning the Occupied Territories. Netanyahu fervently objected (and resigned from his post under the Sharon administration) to the “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip. He holds tight the Likud principles: keep the illegal settlers in the Occupied Territories, expand settlements at full pace, continue the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and build the separation wall deep into Palestinian land.

On the left you have Amir Peretz, the underdog who beat out Shimon Peres to head the Labor Party. Peretz, a Moroccan Jew, has promised to focus on social justice, the eradication of poverty and the needs of the average Israeli. He also claims to be determined on a two-state solution as a resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and is seen, in Palestinian circles, as much more dovish than his colleagues in the Labor Party.

We mustn’t forget the possibility of another resurrection of Peres himself, the man in the middle, who has envied the premiership and has yet to win it legitimately. It is thought that the longtime politician, now a member of Sharon’s party, would be able to get a leg up through a strong Kadima victory, but one wonders if the movement will die before it ever gets off the ground.

Nevertheless, this is just the left, right and middle, with many others looking to fill the shoes of a man who dominated Israeli politics for many years. Time will tell what the Israeli public’s reaction will be and who they think should be the next leader of their state.

Many Palestinians remember Sharon for his role in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian civillians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Lebanon, in 1982. They strongly associate him with current Israeli government policies of extrajudicial assassination, mass home demolitions and illegal annexation.

Everyone will be watching closely to see in what direction the Holy Land is headed.

Remi Kanazi (remroum@gmail.com) is a Palestinian American who writes for www.PoeticInjustice.net.