Palestine is falling apart. And regardless of what happens with Sharon's health, he's dead politically. A huge campaign funding scandal just erupted yesterday more serious than the previous two. His son just pled guilty to charges in another scandal and had to abandon his Knesset seat. The Palestinian territories have descended into utter chaos. The borders Sharon agreed to abandon are being used to smuggle in much more advanced weaponry. Quassam rockets are fired into Israel uninterruptedly and are reaching closer and closer to major population bases. And, now, al Qaeda is now conducting attacks on Israel from the northern border and, they suspect, Gaza.
I think all this adds up to Netanyahu's return. I've been feeling this in my gut for a couple of weeks and now with Sharon's latest heart emergency, I'm fairly certain that despite his poor standing in polls, Bibi will be back shortly. Bibi's return, together with Hamas' ascendancy and the total breakdown of Palestinian society, will mean this whole thing will be getting a lot worse.
I asked him whether he thought that the fact that Sharon was about to be widely glorified and eulogized would prevent Israelis from turning to his political enemy, Netanyahu, and this is what he said:
Netanyahu won last time after Rabin was assassinated in an atmosphere where the country was literally blaming the right wing for the assassination.
This would be a piece of cake, comparatively. But, ultimately, Netanyahu isn't the insane warmongering right winger he's made out to be. He'll cave into the Americans, but only after making himself unwelcome. Clinton hated him. Bush will hate him too. He's slick, very smart, arrogant and insecure on the deepest level. Unlike Sharon, this isn't a guy Bush would feel a connection with.
I think that will have implications in the region. The centrist impulse embodied by Sharon enjoys massive support in Israel. The centrist idea is that the Left's idea of a negotiated treaty obviously failed, the Right's idea of holding on to every inch and ruling over the Palestinians failed and is undesirable for many reasons in any event, thus, we will disengage from the Pals and draw our own borders for the time being until the situation changes and the Pals get their act together. It's a creative, politically difficult and potentially dangerous solution, but people trusted Sharon and he bulldozed his way around the political landscape by his force of will. It's not clear whether people will trust his quasi-successor, Ehud Olmert, who, in my opinion, is a real yutz (knucklehead). That guy has no gravitas.
The real tragedy for Israel is that the Sharon plan will probably die with him. The situation will change drastically. The last five years, everyone in the Middle East, the Arabs, Jews, Quartet, has been reacting to Sharon. In a stagnant situation, while everyone was paralyzed, Sharon was moving and pushing and taking initiatives. And everyone else just stood around watching, not quite knowing how to do. Everyone was watching, with eagerness, concern, and mostly, curiosity, what the next step Sharon would take, what Sharon was up to, what he was doing, what was his plan. It's pretty remarkable when you think about it.
Regardless of what else one though of Ariel Sharon, it did seem as though he was the only Israeli leader with both the hawkish credibility and requisite sanity to forge a real peace. It was hardly a foregone conclusion that he would or could achieve that, but it at least looked possible. It looks less possible today.