Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a severe stroke resulting in a cerebral hemorrhage on January 4, 2004. Paramedics rushed Sharon from his ranch in the Negev Desert to a Jerusalem hospital for life saving surgery. From the early news feeds and doctor’s comments things are not looking good. Internal bleeding after six hours of surgery led to another three hours in the operating room. After the second surgery doctors said his vital signs are stable, although his condition is still “grave.”
Pundits and analysts are already grabbing pen and pad to jot down their assessment. Many believe Ariel 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.”
While those in the West and Israel naively labeled Sharon a new "man of peace" and fresh corruption charges surfaced, his political career was strong as ever. Sharon was running a one man show going into the March elections with his new Kadima (forward) party. Major polls showed the premier was a shoe-in, but now the question becomes which direction Israel will be headed politically.
On one right you have the hard-line Binyamin Netanyahu. The Likud strongman dished out harsh criticism to Sharon and his “timid” policies concerning the Occupied Territories. Netanyahu fervently objected (and resigned from his post under the Sharon administration) to the "disengagement" of the Gaza Strip. He holds tight the Likud principals: keep the illegal settlers in the Occupied Territories, expand settlements at full pace, continue the Judiazation of Jerusalem and build the wall deep into Palestinian land. On the left you have Amir Peretz, the underdog that 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 from Peres himself, the man in the middle, who has envied the premiership and has yet to win it legitimately. It is thought that the long time politician 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 five years. Time will tell what the Israeli public’s reaction will be and who they think should be the next leader of their state. Palestinians and the rest of the world will be watching closely as well to see what direction the Holy Land will be headed.