The success of this fence-plus-unilateral-withdrawal strategy is easily seen in the collapse of the intifada. Palestinian terror attacks are down 90 percent. Israel's economy has revived. In 2005 it grew at the fastest rate in the entire West. Tourists are back and the country has regained its confidence. The Sharon idea of a smaller but secure and demographically Jewish Israel garnered broad public support, marginalized the old parties of the left and right, and was on the verge of electoral success that would establish a new political center to carry on this strategy.
The problem is that the vehicle for this Sharonist centrism, his new Kadima Party, is only a few weeks old, has no institutional structure, and is hugely dependent on the charisma of and public trust in Sharon.
To be sure, Kadima is not a one-man party. It immediately drew large numbers of defectors from the old left and right parties (Labor and Likud), including Cabinet members and members of Parliament. It will not collapse overnight. But Sharon's passing from the scene will weaken it in the coming March elections and will jeopardize its future. Sharon needed time, perhaps just a year or two, to rule the country as Kadima leader, lay down its institutional roots and groom a new generation of party leaders to take over after him.
This will not now happen. There is no one in the country, let alone in his party, with his prestige and standing. Ehud Olmert, his deputy and now acting prime minister, is far less likely to score the kind of electoral victory that would allow a stable governing majority.
Kadima represents an idea whose time has come. But not all ideas whose time has come realize themselves. They need real historical actors to carry them through. Sharon was a historical actor of enormous proportion, having served in every one of Israel's wars from its founding in 1948, having almost single-handedly saved Israel with his daring crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and now having broken Israel's left-right political duopoly that had left the country bereft of any strategic ideas to navigate the post-Oslo world. Sharon put Israel on the only rational strategic path out of that wreckage. But, alas, he had taken his country only halfway there when he himself was taken away. And he left no Joshua.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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