Sat, Jan 07, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israeli media focus on void Sharon leaves at top

UNCERTAIN LEGACY As Israel began to debate how Sharon will likely be remembered, all agreed that his exit from the stage leaves the country in limbo


The Israeli press yesterday appeared resigned to a bleak future without the overwhelming presence of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who remains in critical condition following a massive brain hemorrhage.

As Sharon was rushed back into surgery after a brain scan revealed new bleeding, newspapers were already eulogizing him politically and speculating about the implications of an election without his presence.

With commentators universally acknowledging the end of the Sharon era and debating his legacy, they were quick to point out that his departure from the main seat of power has left a significant void.

"It was not so many years ago that he was a national and international pariah, barred from ministerial office, reviled and spent," wrote David Horowitz, editor of the English-language Jerusalem Post.

"Yet as Wednesday night turned to Thursday morning, and the full extent of Ariel Sharon's incapacitation became plain, it was already clear that ours is a changed and uncertain country without him at its helm, and that many Israelis feel thoroughly bereft without his massive overwhelming presence," he wrote.

Describing Sharon as belonging to "a generation of giants," the top-selling Yediot Aharonot questioned how his departure would affect the security establishment.

"The disappearance of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from the head of the security pyramid of Israel has created an organizational, cultural and power void," wrote commentator Alex Fishman.

Not only was he the driving force behind Israel's security policy, but also "a champion political maneuverer," the paper said.

Sharon left his mark on Israeli history more than most prime ministers before him, and his disappearance from the political scene has left the country in chaos, wrote the left-leaning Haaretz.

"His departure from the political stage leaves behind a country in leadership chaos," wrote commentator Uzi Benziman.

In spite of his frequently bloody past and links to the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982, Sharon is now likely to be remembered for pushing through the first-ever full Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land, he wrote.

"He will be remembered as the one who began to collapse the Israeli hold on the territories and as the one who created an historic precedent by withdrawing from Gaza," he said.

In an editorial headlined "Sharon -- the man and the legend," Yediot's chief columnist Nahum Barnea considered how the premier's departure would affect both his allies and rivals.

"Sharon's leaving the scene reshuffled the deck. It created a new basis for hope for [Labor leader] Amir Peretz as well as for [Likud leader Benjamin] Net-anyahu," he wrote.

"It forced a test of maturity on Kadima even before the new party has been weaned. Had Sharon suffered this fatal stroke a month and a half ago, Kadima would never have been born," he said, referring to Sharon's newly formed centrist party.

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