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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Hang on – that’s not how it’s supposed to be written

Guy Keleny
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test