Leading article: Ariel Sharon's unlikely bequest to his nation

Share

The Israel that emerges from Tuesday's election is one that appears more fragmented and more subtly differentiated than the one over which Ariel Sharon presided. Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, will have his work cut out to form a coherent coalition government. The results for his own party, Kadima, which was the brainchild of Mr Sharon, were frankly disappointing. It will be the largest party in the new Knesset, but by nothing like the margin he and the new party's supporters had hoped.

The complexities of forming a government, however, tend to distort the signal achievements of this election. First, Kadima, a party created only four months before the election by a prime minister who fell into a coma shortly thereafter, showed itself to be a viable political entity and Mr Olmert showed himself a competent leader. He held the party together, waged a coherent campaign and earned the right to assume the post of prime minister in his own name. That is a more than adequate reward for two months' hard work.

Second, this election shattered the mould of Israeli politics as it has existed for nearly 60 years. Likud, the party of the right, the party of security, the party that took one third of Knesset seats three years ago under Mr Sharon's leadership, will now have less than 10 per cent. The political right has split four ways, and the rump of Likud is now little more than another shade of blue in the broad spectrum of Israeli politics. The old left (the Labour Party) and the new centre did best, along with the hard-right Yisrael Beiteinu that has become the political voice of the large constituency of Russian-born Israelis.

This suggests that, while security may still head the voters' priorities, concessions on land and a security barrier are seen as a more promising way of obtaining it than refusal to compromise, backed up by force of arms. Not even the victory of Hamas in recent Palestinian elections pushed Israelis back to Likud. This represents not only a sharp change in the public mood, but an endorsement of the vision pursued by Mr Sharon as his career drew to a close.

Finally, there is the obvious point that is too often neglected. The quality of Israel's democracy is remarkable in a neighbourhood where votes that are at once free, fair and peaceful are rare. This means that the results are as accurate a snapshot of Israeli sentiment as election results in any other democracy. It also gives the Israeli government a legitimacy that most other governments in the region do not have and means that it has a mandate that must be taken seriously.

In his victory speech, Mr Olmert renewed his call for talks with the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (but not with Hamas), while stressing Israel would be prepared to make further territorial concessions unilaterally if negotiations proved impossible. He has a four-year plan involving Israel evacuating further West Bank settlements while keeping the largest and closest within a new - and permanent - national border. This, of course, would be far from ideal. A negotiated settlement, based on the road map backed by the EU, the UN, the US and Russia, has long been the preferable solution. And it is hard to see how any peace can last without the support of the Palestinians and the underpinning of guarantors and goodwill from outside. But it is also reasonable to ask whether there would have been any movement at all towards a two-state solution without Mr Sharon's bold decision to withdraw from Gaza. He created Kadima - Forward - as the political vehicle for continuing that policy. This election, and the domestic realignment it sealed, is his bequest to Israel. Ehud Olmert's job is to make it work.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fifi Geldof (left) with her sister Pixie at an event in 2013  

Like Fifi Geldof, I know how important it is to speak about depression

Rachael Lloyd
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering