Analysis: Taking Over From Sharon / Politicians Just Want to Be Loved

"What do I have to do so that everyone will love me?" Ariel Sharon asked one of his advisers at the beginning of the 1990s. He was housing and construction minister at the time, during the Yitzhak Shamir government. The Sharon of those days was a different man, always trying to outflank Shamir from the right, the darling of the settlers. He was always sowing fear in the face of any compromise, any concession. The adviser, who is no longer part of Sharon's official consulting team, recalled this comment of Sharon's over the weekend in light of the waves of love and concern that flooded his hospital room on the seventh floor of Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem. Not just from Israel, but from the entire world.

One can guess that a similar question is now going through the brain of Ehud Olmert, Sharon's heir. Over the next 70 days, this seasoned and scathing politician, who barely managed to get onto the Likud's Knesset list three years ago, must get the would-be Kadima MKs, as well as the voters, to like him. When he compiles the Kadima list for the 17th Knesset, Olmert will have to win the confidence of the contenders.

If he does not manage to hold onto the task of compiling the order of the list himself and establishes a committee to do it instead, he is likely to encounter lobbying tactics, threats and leaks that will erode the value of Kadima, as happened with the Center Party in 1999. That will only benefit the Likud and Labor.

Olmert's immediate problem, though, is Shimon Peres. At first glance, it seems that Peres is right: He is not rushing to dedicate himself to Olmert because Olmert is not Sharon. But that's just an excuse. Peres knows that in the political arena, Olmert is more Sharon than Sharon. The problem is the status he'll have. With Sharon, there was a high degree of mutual trust. But Peres is no fool; he knows that as long as it seems he's deciding between Kadima and Labor, his value will continue to rise. And if Olmert sweats, so he sweats. It's all for the sake of the peace process.