Four in Pursuit of Sharon's Legacy

All four of Kadima's candidates for prime minister pretend to understand better than the other the political-security philosophy that guided Ariel Sharon.

All four of Kadima's candidates for prime minister are likely to find themselves in a situation similar to that of a young lawyer who just joined a prestigious law firm whose boss expects him to work long, hard hours. After a few months, the young lawyer proudly reports to the firm's senior partner that he managed to close a case that had been in litigation for 15 years. "Oh, no," the partner says. "We made such a good living off this client this whole time."

Each candidate pretends to understand better than the other the political-security philosophy that guided Ariel Sharon. Each candidate boasts of the legacy their erstwhile leader left behind, each one takes great pains to persuade party members that he and only he (or she) is the real heir apparent. Yet the candidates don't stop to ask themselves what exactly is the legacy of the man who almost three years ago fell into a coma. Of all the man's public metamorphoses, which of Sharon's personas do the candidates hope to connect with? And is that candidate worthy of being considered the one to carry Sharon's mantle of leadership?

Like most Israeli prime ministers, Sharon left no legacy behind. Efforts by some people to concoct a legacy or public will are clearly forced and patently ridiculous. To this point, people would be right to speak of a legacy left behind by just two of our country's leaders - David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin. The former can be credited with instilling the coming generations of Israelis with a sense of national pride, independence, and a capability to defend themselves. The latter's place in our nation's consciousness is secure thanks to his refusal to yield one inch of the homeland, his steadfast integrity, and his determination to preserve the state's Jewish character.

All the other prime ministers failed to elevate themselves as leaders who could point the way for their people, and the impression they left on the national soul was strictly superficial. This goes for Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and certainly Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak.

Ehud Olmert may perhaps leave a legacy. Unfortunately, and to his dismay, it is a legacy impossible to take pride in. A legacy is also a myth, and like all myths, there are elements more suited to fairy tales and fiction. One can question the credibility of claims of the unique qualities Ben-Gurion is said to have possessed, just as one can raise doubts on how Begin has been depicted, though in the same vein, one cannot ignore their work as prime ministers. There is no point, however, in ignoring the public's complaints. The people's verdict (at least for now) is that Ben-Gurion and Begin were stellar leaders, while the others were a bunch of run-of-the-mill politicians.

There is something contrived and pathetic in the attempts to manufacture a legacy for Ariel Sharon (just as there is something clumsy and embarrassing in the desire to do so for Yitzhak Rabin). Exactly which Sharon does Tzipi Livni seek to emulate: the man whose name is linked with the Sabra and Shatila massacre or the one who evacuated and destroyed Gush Katif? And with whom does Shaul Mofaz wish to identify with: the same Sharon who led him by the nose as prime minister, or the one who time and again amazed his superiors by the way he creatively interpreted their orders?

And what of Avi Dichter? Which incarnation of Sharon is his role model of choice? Is it the man who sprinkled Jewish settlements on every vacant hill in the West Bank to mesh them with the local Palestinian population, or is it the one who sought to separate himself from the West Bank and "converge" behind a separation fence in the twilight of his career? What about Meir Sheetrit? Does he prefer the quarrelsome Sharon who made life miserable for every prime minister he served under? Or does he yearn for the master political manipulator Sharon who put together and then took apart governing coalitions with impunity?

History will judge Sharon. It will determine his place in our state's history, just as it will for all our prime ministers. In this vein, it would be best for the four Kadima candidates not to get ahead of themselves and resist the populist urge to adopt Sharon's "legacy." Because if they peer through the fog that Sharon's spinmeisters engulfed him in during his final years in office, they are likely to find that his conduct and character were colored by one striking trait (alongside his daring): his impulse for destruction. Instead of fondly remembering Sharon's past, the candidates would do well to offer the public a plan of action for today and a vision for tomorrow.