Time is the prime minister's worst enemy, a close associate of Ariel Sharon said to me not so long ago. Four months between the decision to bring forward the elections and the vote itself, 100 days from Sunday - that's a lot of time. And during this interim, anything could happen, expect the unexpected; the best plans could go astray; and a single incident could turn the best intentions and plans inside out.
Who would have believed that the evacuation of Gaza was completed just 100 days ago; and that in the interim, Benjamin Netanyahu quit the treasury and the government, that he and the rebels caused Sharon to walk out on the Likud in favor of establishing an open center-right political movement made up of the Likud's finest and new politicians, while Bibi and the rebels' Likud have returned to the status of Herut of old?
Have you noticed that even Moshe Feiglin's facial features recall the image of Menachem Begin as leader of the Etzel during the British Mandate period?
A movement in the mold of Kadima is every leader's wet dream - a list, but not yet a party, devoid of inflated and corrupt central committees like those that have ruled the Likud. Semi-king, semi-president - Sharon decides who will run with him, and in what place on the list; he has delegated the tasks; and he has decided who will formulate the movement's fundamental principles. Eyal Arad labeled Sharon the David Ben-Gurion of our generation. Whatever he tells him to do, he does. If Sharon wins the March 28 elections, he will become the first politician since Ben-Gurion to be elected prime minister for three consecutive terms, with the same domestic authority and international recognition.
The concern of Sharon's associates about such a lengthy election campaign is justified. The guy upstairs tapped Sharon on the shoulder at a very bad time. Even if the prime minister leaves the hospital with a clean bill of health, there has been a dramatic political development whose consequences are difficult to foresee. From being someone who taunted his rivals that he would serve in office until 2010, Sharon is suddenly having to deal with issues of age and health - and from a political perspective, as illustrated by questions regarding his ability to continue to function.
Israel has a long history of leaders who covered up their health issues. Yigal Alon suffered a heart attack in Tel Hashomer, and the public was totally unaware. Golda Meir had cancer and would go for treatment in the dark of night. Abba Eban once said of her that she suffers from psychosomatic health. In any event, we still don't know if her condition prejudiced her judgment at the time of the Yom Kippur War. Begin covered up a stroke and incidents of manic depression before suffering a breakdown and becoming a recluse. Levi Eshkol's cancer was described up until the day of his sudden death as "complications from a cold."
Sharon hasn't hidden any medical record. He is a walking medical record - elderly, fat, a compulsive eater, whose heavy energetic gait hides the fact that he does everything the doctors tell him not to do. He exuded strength and was about to cash in on the biggest gamble of his life. But assuming (and hoping) even that he leaves hospital unscathed, the term "light stroke" cannot be erased. In the eyes of the man in the street, he is damaged goods.
All of a sudden, the country saw, fearfully and worriedly, to what extent Israeli politics, the peace, the borders, the arrangements, and our future depend on one bold man for whom the penny has dropped - and to what extent Kadima, which according to the polls was about to record a crushing victory, is in danger.
Assuming he comes through safe and sound, Sharon will have to amend the concept of Kadima as a party that depends entirely on him. He must immediately set up party institutions, recruit members, and, primarily, establish a leadership hive from which a heir and successor will emerge. The fog with which he wished to cloud the essence of his movement in order to make things easier for traditional Likud voters will now work against him.
Our public opinion polls, with all due respect (of which there is a great deal), are indeed predicting a resounding victory for Sharon; but they have been known on occasion to fail in their efforts to correctly divide up the "undecided," or to fail to correctly read Israeli political spin.
Three-and-a-half months is a long time. One painful slip-up, one error that is attributed to the stroke, and nothing will be as it appeared just a week ago. With the kind of problems facing this country, 100 days are too many.
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