Source Pravda.Ru

Sharon means too much for Middle East

The end of the Sharon era is destined to have a destabilising effect not solely on the internal political equilibrium of Israel but on the entire Middle East. This fact has become starkly evident in the dramatic hours that have marked the exit of Sharon from the political stage, whether or not he recovers from more than nine hours of brain surgery.

The first immediate impact is the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the new centrist party, Kadima (Forward), founded by Sharon last year and until yesterday indicated in opinion polls as capturing one third of the votes in early elections, fixed for March.

The new political movement, which represented a possible drastic re-alignment of Israel's traditional political framework, is still grappling to create an efficient organisation and put down political roots. From one moment to the next Kadima has been decapitated.

Ehud Olmert, Sharon's faithful and controversial right hand man, is considered by observers one of the most unpopular political figures in Israel. Most feel he lacks the stature to fill the leadership role at a moment of extreme gravity.

The vacuum which has opened up unexpectedly in the new movement forged and led by Sharon also involves the entire political spectrum in Israel.

Paradoxically the one man who may be called on to play a central role is Shimon Peres, another veteran player, who abandoned his traditional Labour loyalties to follow premier Sharon after the latter's historic decision to withdraw fronm Gaza.

The elections in March could be postponed, either by a presidential initiative or with the support of at least 80 deputies in the Knesset (Israeli parliament). But if they are not, the predictable convulsions of the post-Sharon era could mean clashes and damaging rivalries inside the Kadima party, built on the charisma and astuteness of a single man, however exceptional.

The Labour Party, focussing on its protests against the economic and social policies of the current government, and under a new leader, Amin Peretz, may find new room for manoeuvre, even if it is dogged by a lack of overall vision and by the inexperience of its new leader.

The situation in Likud, the nationalist right wing party that Sharon co-founded and then left abruptly last year, is different. According to opinion polls, it currently lies in third place after Kadima and Labour.

After overcoming the wrench of the defection of Sharon and many of his followers, Likud has been able to re-group under the leadership of Benyamin Netanyahu.

This political message, which only a few days ago looked like a losing proposition, could now gain ground, in a climate of uncertainty and shock.

It is no coincidence that the most alarmed reactions in the Arab world come from the most pragmatic and US-aligned leaders such as Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdallah. Egypt and Jordan, two neighbours whose decision to sign a peace treaty with Israel, has exposed them to a Islamic fundamentalist backlash. And they now face the loss of an interlocutor of the calibre of Sharon, which they fear may further damage the stalled peace process, known as the Road Map, according to AKI.

V.Y.