Even a man as brave as Ariel Sharon was probably impressed by his minor stroke. A medical event leaves its imprint even on a prime minister. Politicians, too, are filled with anxiety when they are lying helpless following a breakdown of their body.
Sharon, who left the hospital yesterday, will be a different man than the one rushed there Sunday night. He felt in the flesh the thin line between the running of daily life and a health calamity. He had an illustration of life's temporary nature, certainly of the time meted out to him as the country's leader.
It is to be hoped that his hospitalization will be a pivotal event in this chapter of Sharon's life. It is nice to hold short conversations with reporters four hours after the attack and thus prove he has his strength back; it is encouraging to know that he was joking with his doctors; it is impressive to see him leaving the hospital in a jovial mood.
Still, the basic weakness that was revealed is disturbing - the way he left his party (and the country) detached and hanging when he was rushed against his will to the trauma room.
This diagnosis is all the more relevant the day following the election for the Likud leadership. Sharon is at the head of a new party he established, when the political reality he generated with his own two hands grew into historic decisions without his having provided it the tools with which to make those decisions.
Moreover, Kadima is in essence, at present, a virtual political creation whose way is entirely unknown. Sharon's hospitalization placed his party (and the country) into unprecedented confusion. An unformed political entity ostensibly running matters of state without the brain and operator behind it, without organized internal processes, without a tradition, without a procedure for replacing the leader if necessary.
If Sharon had gone out of commission for a long period or, perish the thought, had completely lost his ability to function, Kadima (and with it the entire political system) would have gone into a dangerous nose-dive. Luckily, the moment of confusion was short. However, time is short: Sharon will have to act immediately to create a basis for the party's ability to function in keeping with acceptable democratic rules. His main task will be to fill the Kadima envelope with ideological content and a political action plan that will provide it with a clear, long-term party profile.
So far, Sharon has not presented his objectives for his next term of office; his short illness has made this task urgent. It is not clear whether he split the Likud because he had had enough of the annoyances of Benjamin Netanyahu, the rebel MKs and the central committee members, or because he really was imbued with the desire to complete the great task of disengagement from the territories.
Now, with Netanyahu elected to head the Likud, with Uzi Landau at his side and Moshe Feiglin breathing down his neck - a choice that clearly identifies the ideological platform of this party - Sharon's first task is to define Kadima's path. He must make this party, which has a good chance of being the fulcrum on which the new government will rest, appear to be a stable organization offering voters a clear plan of action, sharply differentiated from the Likud's.
It it to be hoped that the alarm clock ticking on Sharon's desk will wake him to action. If he does see himself as one of the last remnants of the founding generation whose job it is to leave to the coming generations a safe and stable country, if indeed he feels that in his twilight years he has an opportunity to create closure, he must complete the task he started with the withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank. The end of the occupation is the task of his lifetime; the things he saw from his sickbed he did not see even from the prime minister's chair.
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