Israel After Sharon
Wednesday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke that doctors say he is unlikely to survive. Thus came the stunning and sudden departure not only of the nation’s most powerful leader, but also of a man many consider to be one of its founding fathers.
The tragedy simply could not have come at a more volatile moment in the history of this little nation. Its consequences will be profoundly felt—and could be huge.
Sharon had a distinguished and controversial career as a war leader and politician. His prime-ministership, which began when he took over from beleagered Labor leader Ehud Barak in February 2001, was marked by a series of increasingly bold and risky initiatives intended to bring an end to the interminable Arab-Jew stalemate over control of Israel. The two most remarkable of these were the building of a security wall around Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank, and the complete withdrawal of the Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip. The latter of those moves was such a radical departure from the principles of Likud (the political party Sharon helped found and then represented), and resistance from within the party was so strong, that in November 2005 he announced his resignation from Likud in order to form a new party, Kadima—meaning “forward.”
Sharon was so popular within Israel that, as soon as the new party formed, polls showed the public flocking to support him. Prominent politicians from Likud and elsewhere joined him. Kadima’s creation effectively splintered support for Likud and Labor, the two main parties throughout Israel’s history. A survey published January 4, conducted by Dialogue for Haaretz and Channel 10, predicted Kadima dominating parliamentary elections scheduled for March 28. Had the poll numbers played out, Sharon’s new party would have taken 42 of the Knesset’s 120 parliamentary seats—blistering Labor, which would have garnered 19 seats, and Likud, only 14.
The question of what would have happened had Kadima enjoyed such success is interesting to contemplate. The biggest question that emerged in recent weeks was the status of Jerusalem. A December 5 Newsweek article quoted a senior adviser to the prime minister as saying that Sharon was prepared to cede parts of East Jerusalem in pursuit of a final peace deal with the Palestinians. Though Sharon denied it, the statement looked a lot like the kinds of trial balloons that preceded previous radical moves, including the Gaza retreat. It also backed up prior indications Sharon had given that he would consider relinquishing East Jerusalem.
With Sharon gone, however, this scenario is less likely. A deal involving the Holy City—the hottest hot-button issue in the peace process—would almost surely require someone with Sharon’s clout. His exit probably heralds the return of a more cautious approach; the Jews will not give up Jerusalem voluntarily—certainly not the Temple Mount.
Sharon’s departure marks the end of big-man, personality-driven politics in Israel. What is likeliest to emerge in Sharon’s absence is a political scene crowded with competing supporting-cast players. The pre-Sharon cacophony of political infighting that swung from one side of the political spectrum to the other—Rabin to Netanyahu to Barak, prime ministerships punctuated by an assassination, no-confidence votes and dissolved governments—is likely to come roaring back, louder than ever.
How might this affect the future of the Jewish state? Jesus Christ Himself said a house divided against itself cannot stand.
It is true that Israel under Sharon was moving in a dangerous direction, and his being plucked from the scene could result in the brakes being put on further concessions to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, the political landscape in Israel is profoundly fractured. The picture of political chaos will only grow worse.
This is hardly an enviable position for a nation already on the back foot, with its enemies rearing up on all sides.
Both Hamas in the Palestinian territories and a nuke-hungry Iran with a mad president want to see Israel pushed into the sea, and they relish any sign of weakness. Israel’s retreat from Gaza measurably emboldened them, and with its government in turmoil you can be sure they smell blood. If a weak leader emerges in Israel, they will push for all the concessions they can get. But if the new leadership takes a more hardline approach, they may well press their advantage and become all the more belligerent.
Bible prophecy shows that Israel’s enemies will succeed in conquering half of Jerusalem (read chapter 3 of our booklet Jerusalem in Prophecy). Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has recently suggested that this will include the Temple Mount. That power play would easily provoke an international crisis that would quickly escalate into world war.
Watch for it.