1928-2014 |

Ariel Sharon, Former Israeli Prime Minister, Dies at 85

Sharon, a controversial military leader, launched a long and tumultuous political career that culminated in the disengagement from Gaza. He died after eight years in a coma at Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died Saturday after a significant deterioration in his medical condition over the past two weeks. Sharon, who was 85, was comatose for the past eight years.

On January 4, 2006, Ariel "Arik” Sharon was at the height of his political power: His newly founded Kadima party had just beat the rival parties to a pulp in pre-elections polls, which predicted it securing 40 Knesset seats in the approaching election.

Then in a single moment, the 78-year-old Sharon fell from the political stage, suffering his second serious stroke within two-and-half weeks and bringing his electoral blitz to a halt. Israel's prime minister was brought to Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, and his illness soon became the focus of world attention in the frenzied 2006 Israeli election campaign.

Everyone had expected Sharon, the controversial military and political leader, to substantially push forward the peace process with the Palestinians, the primary reason he had left the Likud party and established Kadima.

A huge upheaval swept Israeli politics when Sharon established his centrist party, setting a platform for the biggest step in his life as a daring politician, and also dramatically changing his reputation.

Just two decades earlier, Sharon had been considered a leper in the international community and among a wide swathe of Israelis, was seen as wearing around his neck the albatross of the Israeli sins committed during the First Lebanon War, following his humiliating removal as defense minister by the government's Kahan Commission. That inquiry found Sharon personally responsible for not preventing the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by forces belonging to the Lebanese Christian Phalange party.

After his ouster from office, Sharon remained an outcast in the political arena, carrying the image of an extreme right-winger, almost demonic in nature. However,true to the motto he coined himself, Sharon "always stayed at the wheel" and patiently waited for an opportunity to make a comeback. That opportunity eventually arrived and not only brought him into the Prime Minister's Office, but also repaired his reputation among the local public and in international opinion.

Early days and time in the army

Nothing over the course of Sharon's stormy life, whether in his temperament or home life growing up, would have predicted his about-face in the latter part of his political career. Sharon was born under the name Ariel Scheinerman to Shmuel and Vera in February 1928 in the village of Kfar Malal in Mandatory Palestine. His sister Yehudit (Dita) is two years his senior. Sharon's father was an agronomist by training and his mother was a medical student who never completed her studies. His parents immigrated to Israel from Georgia six years before Sharon's birth and barely made a living from raising crops and farm animals. Until her dying day, his mother would sleep with a rifle tucked under bed, Sharon would say, a memory from the fearful nights she spent hiding with Ariel and Dita in Kfar Malal's cowshed from roving Bedouin gangs during the 1929 Arab riots.

Dita married at a young age and immigrated to the United States with her husband, and still lives in New York today. A split developed between Sharon and his sister after she moved to the U.S., and they remained estranged for decades.

Sharon and George W. Bush, Texas 2005
Begin and Sharon in Elon Moreh, 1978
Ariel Sharon in Beirut, 1982
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Sharon and George W. Bush, Texas 2005Credit: Reuters
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Begin and Sharon in Elon Moreh, 1978Credit: Herman Hananya / GPO
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Ariel Sharon in Beirut, 1982Credit: AP
Ariel Sharon

When he was just 14 years old, the young Ariel joined the ranks of the Haganah, the pre-independence underground army of Jews living in Mandatory Palestine. As a member of the Haganah, Sharon received training in navigation, marksmanship and face-to-face combat. A year before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Sharon became a guard in the Jewish communities' police force, which operated under the aegis of the British Mandatory police. All the while, he continued his activities in the Haganah.

After the passage of UN Resolution 181, which called for Mandatory Palestine to be divided among Jews and Arabs, Sharon was made a platoon commander in the Alexandroni Brigade, where he continued to serve during the War of Independence. Some 10 days after the Declaration of Independence, on May 14, 1948, Sharon was seriously wounded in his stomach during the Battle of Latrun. His life was saved by one of his soldiers who evacuated him from the battlefield.

By the end of the War of Independence, Sharon had already been promoted to company commander, and after several months was appointed commander of the Golani Brigade's reconnaissance unit in the North. In 1950, Sharon attended the brigade commanders' course taught by Yitzhak Rabin. Following that, Sharon was appointed intelligence officer of Israel Defense Forces Central Command and later GOC Southern Command.

In 1953, Sharon founded the legendary "101" commando unit. This unit was the first in IDF history to carry out pinpoint assault operations in enemy countries, utilizing sophisticated fighting techniques in-use in the IDF until then. At this time, Sharon began to develop a reputation as a daring commander who viewed military regulations and orders as mere suggestions, already making into a controversial figure.

Thus, in October 1953, he led the raid against the Palestinian village of Qibya which a group of Palestinians terrorists had used as a staging point several days before for the murder of a mother and her two children in the Israeli town of Yehud. Sharon's force blew up some 40 homes in the village, unintentionally burying 70 residents in the rubble, most of them women. The operation sparked harsh international condemnation, with then Prime Minister David Ben Gurion rejecting Israeli government responsibility for the operation. Several months later, the legendary Unit 101 was disbanded and merged into the paratroopers' 890 Battalion. Sharon was appointed commander of the new brigade created by the merger and orchestrated a long list of "payback" operations beyond Israel's borders. In one of these operations, in the Palestinian refugee camp of Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip, Sharon was wounded again when he was hit in the leg by a bullet.

During the Sinai Campaign in 1956, Sharon was the commander of the Paratroopers' 202 Battalion, and yet again things became complicated. This time it was at the Battle of Mitla Pass near the Suez Canal. Sharon commanded a force that hadn't been authorized to go through the narrow pass which Egyptian forces could have used to surreptitiously encircle his force. Nevertheless, the entire battalion became bogged down in a drawn out battle and took heavy losses. IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan accused Sharon of violating an explicit order and Sharon was also criticized for leading his men from behind.

Then Prime Minister Ben Gurion had direct contact with the young officer Sharon back from his days leading Unit 101, but he had his reservations regarding Sharon's character. Ben Gurion once recounted in his diary a conversation with the young Sharon. "Sharon told me he would cure himself of his trait of not speaking the truth." In his memoir published in 1979, "Service Book", Rabin describes a conversation he had with Ben-Gurion about Sharon. "You know that I have a special relationship with Arik Sharon," Rabin recounted Ben Gurion telling him. "I view him as one of the best military people, but if he would only be more of a straight-shooter it would help him get promoted."

Sharon studied at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Law in the early 1960s, while still serving in the army. Before reaching the age of 40, Sharon was promoted to major-general. During the Six Day War in 1967, months after his promotion, Sharon won much praise for his leadership in the victories at Um-Katef and Abu-Ageila commanding the 38th Armor Corps (reserve) on the Sinai front. Sharon took umbrage that his brigade had been assigned a purely defensive role on the southern front and drew up a complex offensive plan of battle that combined forces of tanks, infantry and paratroopers in helicopters and planes that was executed with great precision and that destroyed the Egyptian forces in the sector.

Sharon showed further military initiative after he was appointed GOC Southern Command. In 1971, he initiated a series of military actions to "cleanse Gaza" of the terrorists.

In 1973, after David Elazar was appointed IDF chief of staff, Sharon was forced to retire from the IDF. Around the same time, Sharon purchased 4,000 dunams of land in the western Negev, close to the Israeli town of Sderot, and built Havat Shikmim (Sycamore Ranch). The ranch, which was purchased for $600,000, today is estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

Beset by personal tragedies

Sharon's personal life was also a stormy one. Sharon met his first wife, Margalit Zimmerman, when she was a young girl of 16 studying at the Mosenson boarding school near the Scheinerman family fields in Kfar Malal. He was smitten with a serious case of puppy love. Sharon would call her Gali. In 1953, when Sharon took a break from his military career to learn Middle Eastern history at Hebrew University, the two married and moved to northern Tel Aviv's Tzahala neighborhood. Their eldest son, Gur, was born there. On May 2, 1962, Margalit was killed in a car accident on the road leading to Jerusalem on her way to work as a psychiatric nurse. The young Sharon became a widower with a five-and-a half-year-old son.

One year after Margalit's death, Sharon married her sister, Lily, who he had known since the age of 12 and treated as his younger sister. Lily was about a decade younger than Sharon. Sharon and Lily grew close after Margalit’s death, and a great love blossomed between them. Lily filled in for her deceased sister as a mother to Gur.

After Lily and Sharon married, they had two children of their own: Omri and Gilad. But Sharon's personal tragedies didn't stop there. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 1967, when Gur was 11-years-old, he was killed by an accidental discharge while playing with an antique rifle at the Sharon family home in Tzahala with a friend from the neighborhood. Sharon was at home when the shot rang out and he ran to the yard and found his son bleeding profusely and in critical condition. Sharon held Gur in his arms and ran into the street to stop a passing car. When they arrived at the hospital, Gur had already died in his arms.

At 75-years-old and the prime minister of Israel, Sharon made a rare comment about the tragedy during an interview: “There is no cure for that kind of pain," he said. "At first, it hits you a thousand-fold in the moment. Yes, you say to yourself, what would have happened if I had done this or that? If I had done things differently…"

Like after Margalit's death, so too after Gur's death, Lily served as Sharon's shoulder to lean on. The relationship between husband and wife only grew stronger. Lily continued to play an active role in promoting her husband's career, appearing alongside him at every event and serving as a sounding board and adviser. The family that Lily managed with a strong hand was a source of strength for Sharon. Lily and their two sons were an anchor for Sharon, the home to which he would always return. However, Lily wouldn't live to see Sharon's election to the premiership; she died in 2000 from cancer. For months, Sharon would tend to her at the hospital until her passing.

Political career

After Sharon retired from active IDF service in 1973, he decided to enter politics and was one of the forces behind the establishment of Likud, which combined all the right-wing parties of the time into a single electoral list. Back then Israeli politics was dominated by the left-of-center Alignment, a successor to the Mapai party and predecessor to the Labor Party. Sharon arranged a press conference to announce the formation of the Likud, saying that "an alignment against the Alignment" had been created. The Herut party led by Menachem Begin and the Liberal party led by Shmuel Tamir were two the factions to comprise the new Likud. In the meantime, the Yom Kippur War broke out.

Following his retirement from active duty, Sharon received a temporary appointment as a reserve commander of an armor division in the south. Several months later, when the Yom Kippur War broke out, this appointment proved to be a fateful one. During the initial days of the war, the armor division fought battle after battle of heavy fighting against many Egyptian army divisions to halt their advance. At the same time, Sharon argued with his superior officers, including GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Shmuel "Gorodish" Gonen, former IDF Chief of Staff Haim Bar-Lev, who took de facto control over the southern front as the war progressed, and IDF Chief of Staff David Elazar, who all accused him of violating orders. The post-war Agranat Commission cleared Sharon of these accusations.

As the war progressed, the IDF shifted to the offensive and Sharon commanded the force that crossed the Suez Canal, a move that determined the outcome of the war. By the war's conclusion, Sharon had become "Arik, King of Israel." In the eyes of many soldiers and citizens on the home front, Sharon was the war's hero and had saved the perilous situation on the southern front after the initial failures there.

Immediately after the war ended, Sharon was elected to Knesset for the first time, on the Likud list. Sharon, who had hopes of bringing Likud into power in the government, was disappointed with the election results. After the publication of the Agranat Commission's report and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister Golda Meir and IDF Chief of Staff Elazar, Sharon tried to pressure the new prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, to appoint him IDF chief of staff. However, Rabin tapped Motta Gur to fill the position instead. In June 1974, Sharon joined 150 settlers in establishing the first settlement founded by the religious Zionist Gush Emunim group, Elon Moreh, near the Palestinian city of Nablus. Sharon was removed from the area by IDF soldiers, along with the other settlers. In the following years, Sharon would provide assistance to expanding the settlement enterprise in Gaza and the West Bank in all future roles he served.

One year after his election to the Knesset, Sharon resigned as a MK and was subsequently appointed as defense adviser to Prime Minister Rabin, over the objections of IDF chief of staff Gur and Defense Minister Shimon Peres. Sharon served in the position for only nine months, but during that time he managed to get government approval for the Israeli settler in Sebastia to establish a permanent settlement in the West Bank at Kedumim.

Ahead of the 1977 elections, Sharon decided to leverage his popularity from the Yom Kippur War and establish a new right-wing party, Shlomtzion. It only managed to win two Knesset seats in the elections. Begin who was elected prime minister after the Likud's 1977 electoral upset, brought Sharon back into the party fold and gave a position as agriculture minister and chairman of the inter-ministerial committee on settlement matters. In this post, Sharon continued to work diligently to multiply the number of settlements. It's no wonder that the settlement movement saw Sharon as their political patron.

After the 1981 elections, Sharon's status grew in the Likud and in the government and Menachem Begin appointed him as defense minister in his second term in office. The prophetic statement voiced by Sharon's friend the journalist Uri Dan had come true: Those who wouldn't accept Sharon as IDF chief of staff would have him as defense minister. In his capacity as defense minister, Sharon was responsible for evacuating the Israeli settlements in the Sinai Peninsula, including the Israeli city of Yamit.

The curse of the Lebanon War

After the attempted assassination of Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom Shlomo Argov in the summer of 1982, Sharon convinced Begin to authorize a "limited" IDF operation in southern Lebanon with the goal of pushing the "terrorist infrastructure" away from the Israeli border in Operation Peace in the Galilee.

The operation was supposed to last 48 hours and the IDF was expected to reach a line 40 kilometers north of the Israel-Lebanon border. However, the operation developed into a protracted war with the Syrian army, Palestinian forces and local guerilla groups with the IDF becoming "stuck in the Lebanese mud" for 18 years.

Sharon was blamed for leading Begin and the entire government astray and for not letting them in on his plans to create a new order in Lebanon. Over the course of the war, the IDF entered Beirut and cooperated with the Maronite Christian Phalange militia led by Bashir Gemayel. On September 16, 1982, a day after Gemayel was assassinated, Sharon authorized the entry of Phalangist militiamen into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla in West Beirut. The militiamen proceeded to butcher the camps' inhabitants, killing hundreds, for which Israel was held to be ultimately responsible.

Following the massacre, the Israeli government gave in to pressure from 400,000 Peace Now protesters who gathered in central Tel Aviv and it ordered the establishment of a government-led inquiry. The Kahan Commission laid indirect responsibility on Sharon for the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, stating that he should have expected it and implemented measures to prevent it. The Commission said Sharon should "draw personal conclusions," from the affair. The very same day wherever he went he was followed by left-wing demonstrators who let out cries of "murderer."

Sharon subsequently resigned from the defense portfolio, but remained in the government as a minister without portfolio.

Entering the political wasteland, then rehabilitation

Ahead of the 1984 elections, Sharon decided to run for the Likud party leadership. Even though he lost to Yitzhak Shamir, the 42 percent turnout in support that he received was a considerable accomplishment. With the creation of the national unity government after the general elections, Sharon was appointed industry and trade minister. He opposed the initiative by then Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin to withdraw IDF forces to a "security strip" in south Lebanon and proposed the creation of a Palestinian state east of the Jordan River. Before the 1988 elections, for which he was placed third on the Likud's electoral list behind Yitzhak Shamir and David Levy, Sharon also proposed annexing parts of the West Bank to Israel.

After the elections, Sharon grew close to Levy and to Yitzhak Moda'i and together the troika formed within the Likud an internal opposition to Prime Minister Shamir's peace policy. The three were dubbed by the media as the "Hishuka'im" ("Hoopsters") because of the hoops they wanted to make Shamir jump through. During a Likud Central Committee meeting in 1990, Sharon announced his resignation from the government. This meeting became known as the "Night of the Microphones" during which Sharon opportunistically called from the stage for vote and that "whoever is in favor of eliminating terrorism, raise their hand."

A short while later, the Labor Party left the national unity government in an attempt to form a new government coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties in what was known as the "dirty trick." After the Labor attempt failed, Sharon was reappointed to Shamir's government, this time to serve as housing and construction minister. In this role, Sharon pushed through the construction of tens of thousands of apartment units and sites for mobile homes, mostly through bypassing proper planning procedures, in the name of absorbing the massive wave of immigrant from the Former Soviet Union.

Sharon subsequently spent four years in the opposition during the premierships of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres between 1992 and 1996. He was one the staunchest critics of the Oslo Accords and called for implementing Israeli sovereignty over most of the Palestinian territories. Sharon participated during this time in several of the vicious demonstrations that occurred before Rabin's assassination and stood onstage when the crowds shouted "Rabin is a traitor."

After the 1996 elections, during which Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres for the premiership, Sharon joined the Likud government at the last minute, after David Levy issued a political ultimatum to Netanyahu. A special ministerial portfolio was created for Sharon, who over the years had received the nickname "Bulldozer," the National Infrastructure Ministry. Two years later, Levy left his position as foreign minister and Sharon, who grown close to Netanyahu during this period, replaced him.

Sharon traveled with Netanyahu to the negotiations over the Wye River Memorandum with the Palestinians in the United States and established himself as Likud’s No. 2. On election eve in 1999, when Netanyahu conceded his defeat to Labor leader Ehud Barak, it was Sharon who was standing by his side and who became his heir to the Likud leadership. Sharon was elected Likud chairman and as opposition leader, took on the task of rehabilitating a party with just 19 seats and burdened by debts.

Second intifada erupts

On September 28, 2000, Sharon ascended the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as Knesset opposition leader to declare that "every Jew has the right to ascend onto the Temple Mount." The move caused an international disturbance, provoking outrage among Arab states and among Palestinians.

Not long thereafter, the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out and to spread to the Israeli Arab communities, sparking the October Riots, during which 13 Israeli Arab citizens were killed by police fire.

Direct elections for prime minister were announced in February 2001, in which Sharon defeated Barak with a decisive majority of 62 percent to 38 percent of votes for the premiership. Netanyahu left the political arena to Sharon when he decided not to compete for the Likud party leadership because, he said, of the impossibility of changing the composition of the Knesset in the elections for the premiership. The morning after his election victory, Sharon paid a visit to Lily's grave at Sycamore Ranch.

Sharon's first act as prime minister was to invite the Labor Party to join his government in a broad-based coalition, appointing Peres as foreign minister and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer as defense minister. Nevertheless, the main task that lay in front of him was dealing with the wave of Palestinian terror that engulfed Israeli cities. Sharon took a hard-line in the military struggle against the Palestinians and authorized the policy of "targeted killings." The policy led to the elimination of senior and junior members of terror organizations, foremost among them Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. Sharon also approved military operations like Operation Defensive Shield, during which the Palestinians cities in the West Bank were re-occupied again and again by the IDF, and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat was isolated at his Muqata compound in Ramallah.

Gaza disengagement

In the area of the peace process, Sharon began to shift his position. From the beginning of his term Sharon said that Israel would be forced to make "painful sacrifices," although a good deal of time would pass before this phrase developed real content. In September 2001, Sharon declared for the first time that the Palestinians had a right to establish their own state west of the Jordan River. Sharon's government also passed, with 14 amendments, the "Road Map" outlined by U.S. President George W. Bush, although it was never actually implemented. Sharon dared to take a far-reaching political step on the Palestinian issue only after the 2003 elections when his popularity reached new heights and Likud's Knesset faction grew to 38 seats (and soon gained another two seats that belonged to Yisrael B'Aliya when that party was absorbed into the Likud after the elections) in contrast to Amram Mitzna's Labor Party, which only garnered only 19 seats.

The move to address the Palestinian conflict was the Disengagement Plan that was announced by the Sharon government in 2003 and included the evacuation of all the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and four additional settlements in northern Samaria in the West Bank. It also called for the withdrawal of the IDF from the entire Gaza Strip. Despite the departure of the right-wing parties from his government and the rejection of the plan in Likud members in a party referendum, Sharon pushed the decision to evacuate from Gaza forward through the government and the Knesset. With the aid of the Labor Party, which returned to the government coalition, Sharon passed legislation calling for the evacuation and compensation of the settlers and prepared the IDF and the Israel Police to carry out the plan. The disengagement was carried in a shorter time frame than had been expected, eight days, in August 2005. It proceeded at a quick pace despite the “Orange Campaign” conducted by the opponents to Sharon's plan that spread across Israel and boiled over into acts of politically inspired violence. The storm in the Likud intensified when a group of Likud rebels led by Minister Uzi Landau tried to torpedo the process. At this time, the seeds were planted for Sharon's departure from the Likud and founding of the Kadima party.

Police investigation

At the same time, the threat of prosecution hung Sharon during his entire premiership. Three separate and potentially illegal scandals were investigated. All of them involved suspicions against Sharon for personal corruption, fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. However, an indictment was never filed against him.

In June 2004, then Attorney General Menachem Mazuz closed the “Greek Island” case against Sharon and his son Gilad, after Sharon had been investigated for a suspected quid pro quo relationship with businessman David Appel. Appel had employed Sharon's son Gilad at a very generous salary on building project for a tourist venture in the Greek islands. The Supreme Court rejected appeals against Mazuz's decision to clear Sharon of criminal charges.

In February 2005, Mazuz also closed the case against Sharon alleging that he knowingly funneled previous election campaign contributions through an illegal straw company, while simultaneously deciding to file an indictment against Sharon's son Omri. As part of a plea agreement, Omri admitted to the charges and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

The third scandal, involved wealthy foreign businessmen Cyril Kern and Martin Schlaff and was only close in 2013 due to a lack of evidence. In the beginning of 2006, the police announced that they had evidence that seemed to show that brothers Martin and James Schlaff had transferred $3 million in bribe money to the Sharon family.

During this time, Sharon vigorously denied the accusation lobbed at him that he promoted the Disengagement Plan because of the criminal allegations made against him.

Departure from Likud and founding of Kadima

After the disengagement from Gaza, the internal dissensions that had erupted within Likud between supporters and opponents of the plan became impossible to bridge. After Amir Peretz was elected head of the Labor Party in November 2005, he and Sharon agreed to move forward the general elections for the Knesset from November 2006 to March 2006. Several days later, Sharon shook-up the entire political establishment by announcing he was abandoning the Likud to establish a new political party, Kadima, along with a third of Likud's Knesset faction. The new party, which opinion polls showed would be a vote magnet, attracted Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Gideon Ezra and Meir Sheetrit from the Likud and Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon, and Dalia Itzik from the Labor Party, along with some newer entrants to the political arena, like Uriel Reichman and Avi Dichter.

First stroke

Sharon looked like a man sprinting toward electoral victory, but in December 2005, he was taken to Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem after suffering a light stroke. Sharon was released from the hospital within two days, and returned to campaigning. Nevertheless, doctors instructed Sharon to undergo catheterization to fix a problem found within his heart.

Second stroke

Two-and-a-half weeks, on the evening before his catheterization, Sharon was brought again to the hospital. This time the leader had suffered from a serious stroke and a team of neurosurgeons struggled for hours in the operating room to save his life.

Sharon's simultaneous fall into coma and off the public stage led to an upheaval in his Kadima party, less than three months before the general elections which found itself without the founder who had shaped the party in his image. Kadima was only two-months-old and still lacked an executive decision-making body or apparatus within the party. The fear that it would become a one-man party was a real one.

Despite Sharon's absence, Kadima's election campaign advisers who were made up largely of people from Sharon's famed "ranch forum" of unofficial political advisers, decided to continue to use Sharon's figure. The campaign was renewed two weeks after Sharon's second stroke with the founder himself up front and present, both in image and voice.

Thus, also at the Kadima's party headquarters in Petah Tikva, a giant photo of Sharon was placed in front of the building. After short successors battle between Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, the die was cast. It was determined that Olmert would serve both as acting prime minister and in his original role as a government minister, making him Kadima's de facto candidate for prime minister in the elections and to his appointment as party chairman. Livni was placed as number two on the party's electoral list.

Olmert, though, was careful not to sit in the prime minister's chair, which for a period remained empty. In broadcasts and speeches during the rest of the elections campaign, Kadima's leaders were sure to express their wish and hope for Sharon's return, even after it became clear that Sharon would not lead Kadima into the elections. At one point, the campaign heads proposed placing Sharon in the symbolic 120th spot on the party's electoral list, but the idea was revealed to the public and received harsh criticism.

Despite Kadima leaders' attempts to stick to the message and gather around Sharon's legacy as dictated by the campaign heads, it was actually Olmert who broke party discipline and in several media interviews before the end of the elections campaign revealed his "Realignment Plan" for the unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank within four years. The plan stirred up an internal storm of criticism within Kadima and among Sharon's advisors.

Kadima went into the elections shedding public support. At its peak the party was forecasted to receive 40 Knesset seats. On election eve, the party's leaders found it difficult to hide their disappointment: the party ended up with just 29 Knesset seats. Still, Kadima finished the elections as the largest party in the Knesset and Olmert put together a new government coalition.

Over time, Sharon was moved to an isolated room in Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer where he resided to his final day, still in a coma. Sharon sons, Gilad and Omri came to visit him almost every day. Beside his room stood Sharon's guards, entitled to him as a former prime minister. The public was regularly updated about Sharon's condition over the years of his coma, and every now and then his sons reported some sort of improvement in his health.

Former Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon.Credit: Reuters
Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush at Bush's Crawford Ranch in 2005. Credit: AP

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