Commentary Magazine


Missing Sharon

I was thinking this morning of Ariel Sharon, who has just finished his first year in a coma at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It’s a funny thing. One misses him, wishes he still were prime minister, almost physically longs for the broad, unflappable bulk of him to protect Israel from its current political unraveling—and knows he is to blame for a good part of it.

It was Sharon, after all, who threw a bomb, called “the big bang” by political commentators, into Israel’s political scene by bolting the Likud and creating a new centrist party, Kadima, that went on, after his stroke, to win the March 2006 elections under the leadership of Ehud Olmert.

New centrist parties in Israel indeed have a long record of starting with a bang and ending, being ex nihilo creations with no political infrastructure, with a whoosh of escaping air. This is almost certain to happen to Kadima too, especially if Olmert is forced to resign on corruption charges in the coming months—the difference being that this time, precisely because of Kadima’s electoral victory, unprecedented for a first-time-around party, its blow-out will leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Israeli political scene. A veteran politician like Ariel Sharon should have known better.

He also should have known better than to found Kadima as a single-issue party, with unilateral disengagement as the only real plank in its platform. Unilateral disengagement is now dead in the water, killed by last summer’s unsuccessful war against Hizbullah and the specter of a Lebanon-like West Bank, and Kadima has been a rudderless ship ever since. And although the outbreak and conduct of the war in Lebanon can’t be pinned on Sharon, the years of Hizbullah’s build-up in the Lebanese south after Israel’s withdrawal from there in 2000 took place entirely on his watch. So did the lack of coherent military planning for a major confrontation with Hizbullah that was the main reason for last summer’s botched campaign, which has now resulted in chief of staff Dan Halutz’s resignation. An old general like Sharon should have known better, too.

One wishes he were back. There’s no other Israeli politician large enough to make up for his blunders.