Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Sharon (Politically) Dead?

On February 26, 2012 Ariel "Arik" Sharon will be 84, although it is very unlikely that he will celebrate his birthday. This is because he has been in a coma, probably brain dead as well, since January 6, 2006. He will probably die without ever having regained consciousness.

But imagine, for argument's sake, that tomorrow he were successfully revived and like many elderly people who suffer strokes he would be able to recover cognitive function eventually. This would at minimum probably take a year before he could speak without slurring his words and think and function at a high level. And it might be possible--even likely--that while in a coma he had developed some sort of dementia. It is doubtful that voters or party functionaries would trust someone of that age with the premiership. When Sharon suffered his stroke and was subsequently permanently relieved of the premiership he was 77-78, older than any previous occupier of his office. Previously the oldest premier at retirement had been David Ben-Gurion, the first and third prime minister who retired in June 1963 at age 76.5. So no Israeli prime minister has crossed the 80-year-old barrier and none is likely to ever do so--particularly someone who has suffered a severe stroke.  Between Ben-Gurion and Sharon Golda Meir had retired at age 76 in 1974 and Shimon Peres at age 73 in 1996.

Plus he would have to find a party that would let him run as its leader. When he left the Likud in November 2005 he burned his bridges. Among the parties of the Right he is considered to be a traitor or a leftist or both due to his withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005. In Kadima, the third and final party he founded, he would have to compete against both Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz. At age 84 or 85 he would be in no shape to mount a vigorous reelection campaign. In Israel four prime ministers have returned for a second term after a period out of office: Ben-Gurion in 1956 after less than 18 months away; Rabin in 1992 after fifteen years out of office; Peres in 1995 following Rabin's assassination after nine years away and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009 after a decade away. Rabin, Peres, and Netanyahu remained major figures in their party the whole time they were out of office. Peres returned to the premiership from the defense ministry where he had been minister for 5.5 years and then head of the opposition. Peres served as finance minister and foreign minister between 1986 and 1995.  Netanyahu served as finance minister.  Sharon has been largely out of the news since his stroke.

If not the premiership then perhaps some other ministry? Peres has been the only major party leader in Israel to break the 80-year-old barrier and the only minister I can think of who was over 80 (although it is possible that a leader of one of the religious parties served as a minister in a minor ministry after age 80).  He served as foreign minister under Sharon in a Likud-led coalition from 2001 to 2003. Kadima under Livni has since late 2008 moved far to the left of where it was under Sharon's leadership in late 2005.  If he were to attempt to serve as a minister the press would be full of speculation by doctors about the degree of his mental impairment after the stroke.

So having established that Sharon's political career is over, we are free to examine his legacy. Sharon's legacy as a politician (as distinct from that as a soldier) comes down to four main areas. First, as founder of the Likud in the summer of 1973 he made possible the Right's rise to power in 1977. Thus, he is the equivalent of New Gingrich. Second, as the main political godfather of the settlement movement he made possible under the prime ministries of Begin and Shamir the colonization of the West Bank by religious and secular Jews. Third, as prime minister he brought back assassination after nearly a thirty-year absence as a means of dealing with Palestinian terrorism. He also returned the IDF to Area A (the cities) of the West Bank after an absence since 1995. And he carried out the first removal of settlements within Eretz Israel (Palestine) in August 2005 from Gaza. And finally, by creating Kadima in late 2005 he created a successor party to Labor as a Center-Left party. Next post I will discuss his relative position compared to other Israeli prime ministers.

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