Sharon Rushed Back Into Surgery

Friday morning in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was returned to the operating room to stop the bleeding in his brain. On Wednesday, he suffered a massive stroke.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, let's hear more about that from NPR's Linda Gradstein, if we can. We spoke earlier to Linda Gradstein, Peter, your colleague. She's following the political effects of all this, and she notes that few people do expect him to return to his job.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

I spoke to one surgeon in the hospital who was not involved in Sharon's care, and she said that if it had been anybody else but the prime minister who showed up with the kind of stroke that Sharon came to the hospital with late on Wednesday night, she said in anybody else they wouldn't have even tried to operate.

INSKEEP: Which emphasizes what you said, that he's not expected to return. But this has to be an agonizing moment for Israeli politicians. They're trying to move on, but Sharon's condition is still being intensely monitored by everyone.

GRADSTEIN: I think the whole country--it's an agonizing moment. There's a lot of uncertainty, a lot of tension. People are sort of glued to their televisions. And--but I think at least among, you know, people on the street, it's sort of gradually it has sunk in, and you hear people interestingly talking about Sharon in the past tense. They say things like, `Well, he was this and he was that' instead of talking in the present tense, and there's a lot of sadness.

What's especially kind of difficult about all this is that Sharon had left the Likud Party to form a new political party, Kadima, which, according to polls, was way ahead in elections that will be held at the end of March. Those elections will be held in any case now; that's already been decided. But there's no list of Kadima; there's no party platform. So there really is a lot of uncertainty. However, according to Israeli law, Vice Premier Ehud Olmert has been given the powers for a hundred days. If there is a decision that Sharon has been incapacitated or if he dies, then the Cabinet will have to choose a new leader.

INSKEEP: Well, he not only founded a party; he pursued very important and distinctive policies in the Middle East. Can those policies survive without him?

GRADSTEIN: Well, that's really the big question. He did speak to a majority of the Israeli public that considers itself centrist, that was frustrated with the traditional way that both the right-wing Likud and the center-left Labor had worked. Many Israelis said that the center-left Labor was deluding itself if they thought there was really a Palestinian partner to peace and that negotiations won't go anywhere. They say that the Likud is deluding itself if they think that Israel can maintain control over the West Bank and the Palestinians there.

And Sharon offered a new way. He pushed through the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, which was very popular, although Kadima, we don't know what the platform was. The assumption was that Sharon was going to do another unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank. There is a sense in the Israeli public that they want to disengage from the Palestinians; they want to have as little contact with Palestinians as possible. They don't think there's a Palestinian partner for peace.

So the question is: Will whoever replaces Sharon, most probably Ehud Olmert, be able to go ahead with this program which seems to be what the Israeli public wants?

INSKEEP: Linda, thanks very much.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And you can find highlights of Ariel Sharon's life by going to our Web site, npr.org.

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