Ariel Sharon’s death is a great misfortune that has befallen Israel and the Middle East. But even as he lay dying, rabbis in his country were split on whether or not to pray for his recovery:
|Both chief rabbis called on the public to pray for Sharon. Rabbi Shlomo Amar led a special prayer for the prime minister during a rabbinic conference near Zichron Ya’acov.|
|However, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed and son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, said it was forbidden to pray for something one did not really believe in.|
|“If you fear that Sharon will continue to cause pain to Jewish families if he recovers, don’t pray for him,” said Eliahu in response to a question from a settler who was evacuated from Gaza. The question and answer appeared on Moriya, a religious Zionist Internet site.|
And the rest of the Middle East was split also. The “man-in-the-street interviews were quite happy with the news. Others were more disturbed:
|“We don’t know what will happen after him,” said Ismail. “Will it be someone aggressive or someone softer? But we’re not worried. Nothing worse can happen that hasn’t already.”|
|Other Arabs were worried and expressed regret that Sharon would no longer be the leader of Israel at a time when he has shown he is ready to withdraw from land conquered in 1967.|
|“It’s a pity because it really looked like he was going to deliver,” said Hisham Kassem, a senior Egyptian media persona speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone from Cairo.|
|Kassem, like many other Arabs, recently saw in Sharon a man who could make a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. “Now I’m worried that whoever takes over won’t be able to do it. Then we end up another 10 or 15 years before some kind of settlement is sorted out. The last thing I want is to see [Likud Chairman Binyamin] Bibi Netanyahu in power again.”|
|Hussein Serag, Deputy Editor-in-chief of the Egyptian political weekly, October, said that the views of Arabs on Sharon depended on their level of education.|
|“The educated people who understand politics know that Sharon is a strong man who can make peace, like Begin who was strong and made peace with Sadat,” Serag told The Post. “We want him healthy not because we like him but because we believe he can make peace.”|
But now that possibility is gone, and people are not hopeful about the future. Charles Krauthammer calls Sharon’s death “a calamity.”
|The stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could prove to be one of the great disasters in the country’s nearly 60-year history. .. [it] could be disastrous because Sharon represented, indeed embodied, the emergence of a rational, farsighted national idea that seemed poised in the coming elections to create a stable governing political center for the first time in decades.|
Krauthammer says that Sharon’s genius was to find a “third way” between the Left and the Right, between capitulation — called “negotiated peace” — and hanging onto the Gaza strip no matter what:
|Sharon’s genius was to seize upon and begin implementing a third way. With a negotiated peace illusory and a Greater Israel untenable, he argued that the only way to security was a unilateral redrawing of Israel’s boundaries by building a fence around a new Israel and withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the other side. The other side would become independent Palestine.|
|Accordingly, Sharon withdrew Israel entirely from Gaza. On the other front, the West Bank, the separation fence under construction will give the new Palestine about 93 percent of the West Bank. Israel’s 7 percent share will encompass a sizable majority of Israelis who live on the West Bank. The rest, everyone understands, will have to evacuate back to Israel.|
|The success of this fence-plus-unilateral-withdrawal strategy is easily seen in the collapse of the intifada. Palestinian terrorist attacks are down 90 percent. Israel’s economy has revived. In 2005, it grew at the fastest rate of the developed countries. Tourists are back, and the country has regained its confidence. The Sharon idea of a smaller but secure and demographically Jewish Israel garnered broad public support, marginalized the old parties of the left and right, and was on the verge of electoral success that would establish a new political center to carry on this strategy.|
But now, what is to be? Krauthammer doesn’t think anyone can replace Sharon. Unfortunately, he could be right. Sharon’s untimely death may give the advantage to those who do not wish Israel well, as is the case wtih many Leftists in Europe –e.g., those in Sweden calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, including the archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, as well as Sweden’s ambassador to Berlin.
If you doubt that one man matters that much, consider what Lincoln’s assassination cost the United States in the forty years following the Civil War. The South was penalized, humiliated, and became deliberately obstructionist for generations afterwards. Had Lincoln lived — this man whose genius lay in pulling together factions who would not otherwise have joined hands — the bitterness on both sides would have been quicker to heal.
The South would have been permitted to recover more quickly, the North would have been more likely to forgive, and the “Rebels” might well have faded within a generation. Certainly, the KKK would not have been able to establish, much less maintain, a toehold in the South and parts of the lower Midwest. With Lincoln at the helm, our history would have been different in ways that would reverberate even today.
But instead we had Andrew Johnson and the cruelty of Reconstruction in addition to the rise of Jim Crow. None of that would have happened – or at least would have been much ameliorated — had Lincoln survived to work out the post-war peace.
And now, likewise, Sharon is gone and with him is vanished the hope of his new party. Krauthammer sees it this way:
|The problem is that the vehicle for this Sharonist centrism, his new Kadima Party, is only a few weeks old, has no institutional structure and is hugely dependent on the charisma of and public trust in Sharon.|
|Sharon needed time, perhaps just a year or two, to rule the country as Kadima leader, lay down its institutional roots and groom a new generation of party leaders to take over after him.|
As Krauthammer points out, Sharon’s party was an idea whose time had come:
|But not all ideas whose time has come realize themselves. They need real historical actors to carry them through. Sharon was a historical actor of enormous proportion, having served in every one of Israel’s wars since its founding in 1948, having almost single-handedly saved Israel with his daring crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and now having broken Israel’s left-right political duopoly that had left the country bereft of any strategic ideas to navigate the post-Oslo world. Sharon put Israel on the only rational strategic path out of that wreckage. But, alas, he had taken his country only halfway there when he himself was taken away. And he left no Joshua.|
No, there will be no Sharon, just as there was only Johnson and no Joshua to follow Lincoln.
And it will be much, much worse for Israel than it was for us.