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: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own