Just six months after he oversaw Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Ariel Sharon’s time in office was over. He had arguably staked his career on the move, breaking ranks with his party and risking a permanent divide in Israeli society with what many of the country’s right-wing saw as a betrayal.
What would his next step have been? We will never know, because for the last four years he has been in a long-term coma. The then-77-year-old veteran politician had suffered a first stroke in late December 2005, but recovered and left hospital after two days. The second stroke was far more severe.
Messages of solidarity came in from across the world, including from political rivals like the now-Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But with his condition uncertain but doctors warning the worst, the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was quickly installed in his place. His first major test came almost immediately with the Palestinian Legislative elections, in which the terrorist group Hamas triumphed.
Elected Prime Minister in 2001 as head of Likud, Sharon had abandoned his old party amidst the controversy of disengagement and formed the new centrist party Kadima in preparation for elections in March 2006.
He would not contest them; Olmert would, and for three years the fledgling party remained in charge. But in 2008 Olmert was forced to resign amid allegations of corruption. He was replaced by Tzipi Livni who, despite strong support, failed to form a coalition, paving the way for Netanyahu’s premiership.
Contrary to a malicious Twitter rumour in August, Sharon is still alive. In November he was moved from his Tel Aviv hospital bed to Sycamore Ranch, his home in the Negev where his wife Lily was buried in 2000.
What the JC said: The national concern for Mr Sharon, even among those who would never have voted for him, was a measure of Mr Sharon’s domination of the political arena. After last summer’s successful evacuation of the Gaza Strip, he was widely seen as the only leader with the skill, vision and strength of purpose to complete the job by defining Israel’s eastern border and removing more settlements. Mr Olmert was his loyal lieutenant all the way, but he is seen to lack Mr Sharon’s unchallenged authority and popular appeal.
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