Sharon's Role in Israeli Politics

David Horovitz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, provides an analysis of Israeli politics in the wake of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hospitalization

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

With us now from Jerusalem as well is David Horovitz, editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post, which is the English-language Israeli daily.

Welcome back to the program, David Horovitz.

Mr. DAVID HOROVITZ (Editor in Chief, Jerusalem Post): Thank you.

SIEGEL: I'd like to hear your judgment, beyond the particular policies that he espouses, how significant a figure Ariel Sharon has been in Israeli politics these past few years.

Mr. HOROVITZ: Well, Ariel Sharon bestrides Israeli politics like a colossus. He has basically been remarking Israeli politics at his own will. He reversed his political course very dramatically about two years ago. When having encouraged Jews to live everywhere in land that Israel captured in the 1967 war, he set in motion a process that culminated in the summer, last summer, with the forced evacuation of 8,000 Jewish settlers from the whole of the Gaza Strip and part of the northern Samaria, the northern West Bank. So he really changed political course quite radically, deciding that Israel had to relinquish areas where lots of the Palestinians lived if it wanted to maintain its own Jewish demography and its own democracy.

He then, when he felt that his own party, the Likud, constrained him from pursuing a similar course in the future, he left that party and set up--as you were hearing from Linda, as well--set up Kadima, this vaguely defined centrist group that drew politicians from the left and from the right, and really has no unifying quality except its ties to Sharon and was heading for an election victory in--three months from now.

Since he is now--certainly, I think one can say incapacitated, Israeli politics has to be rewritten. And the party to the left, Labor, and the party to the right, the Likud, the mainstream parties on either side of Kadima, will probably benefit from a Kadima that is not led by Sharon because there is no other figure in that party as compelling and charismatic and credible. In fact, there's no other figure in Israeli politics as attractive to the Israeli public as Sharon as proved.

SIEGEL: Well, does the very idea of a centrist party whose leadership comes from both members formerly of Likud and formerly of Labor--does it stick together if Ariel Sharon is, at the very least, sidelined from the process?

Mr. HOROVITZ: There's political logic for it, so it's not inconceivable. In other words, the Likud under its re-elected leader now, Benjamin Netanyahu, is returning to traditional Likud positions, opposing Palestinian statehood anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And Labor, under its new leader, the former trade union chief Amir Perez, is really taking quite well-defined left-of-center positions, and seems to--certainly, economically has a very distinct positions and maybe has positions clearly to the left of Kadima in terms of what it might try to achieve with the Palestinians, perhaps a greater belief than the middle ground has in the possibility of a permanent accord.

And, therefore, there is a logic to a centrist alliance, one that is somewhat skeptical about relations with the Palestinians, but supports progress, reluctantly recognizes a need for Palestinian statehood, but would not get--would not be quite as generous in trying to seek it or as optimistic in trying to seek a permanent accord as the Labor Party might be.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. HOROVITZ: So there is a great deal of room in the middle of Israeli politics. The question is whether these politicians who all would wish to be--many of whom would see themselves as the potential successor to Sharon, whether they would be able to solve their internal differences and resolve their conflicting ambitions and build a viable and attractive party without Sharon at the helm.

SIEGEL: David, I have a question that requires a single-phrase answer; this is all the time we have. What was there in common of Ariel Sharon patron of settlement and Ariel Sharon who withdrew from Gaza?

Mr. HOROVITZ: I think the common theme that he would talk of was his conception of how best to secure Israel's security. His assessment of how to do that changed, but that would have been his key ambition, I suspect.

SIEGEL: David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. HOROVITZ: Thank you.

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