Barring a major miracle, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will most likely not return to politics. Sharon is currently emerging from a drug-induced coma after suffering a massive stroke. He has shown signs of improvement, but it will be several days or even weeks before doctors know the full extent of the damage. Israeli elections are expected to proceed next month - elections Sharon would most likely have won. Israel and the world now wait to see how a new Prime Minister will affect Jewish-Arab relations and a potential Palestinian state.
A New Prime Minister
In his third term, Ariel Sharon planned to dismantle settlements in the West Bank and map out borders of Israel that were completely separate from the Palestinians. The new Prime Minister could change all that. Three major candidates are expected to run in the March elections - Sharons temporary successor, Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz.
Olmert will most likely run in Sharons place as the Kadima Party candidate. Sharon created the Kadima Party two months ago to break away from the more conservative bloc in his Likud party. Olmert has the same basic agenda as Sharon, but without Sharons popularity and political sway. He may not be able to make the strong-handed political moves Sharon planned.
Netanyahu is Olmerts greatest competition as a former Prime Minister who is still young and quick-witted. Netanyahu is known for his low tolerance for terror and rejects policies that he believes encourage terrorist groups. (For example, he criticized Sharon over the way the Gaza Strip settlements were dismantled). Netanyahu may be considered too conservative for many Israelis, but they know him and respect his resolve.
The Labor leader lags in the rear behind Netanyahu and Olmert. While most Israelis are willing to do what it takes to make peace with the Arabs, they do not have confidence in the Palestinian Authority as a real negotiating partner. Labors willingness to offer land for peace has not succeeded in bringing peace or security to Israel (because large groups of Arabs simply want the end of Israel altogether).
The Future of Israel
If Olmert wins the elections, he will continue to separate Israelis from Palestinians and will unilaterally push for a Palestinian state. Israels demographic problem is perhaps the primary motivation behind this agenda. Population trends indicate that Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel in a few decades. When that happens they will no longer need suicide bombers - they will destroy Israel via the vote. Olmert, however, may not be able to pull off the unilateral separation as easily as Sharon.
Netanyahu may continue the separation, but is far less likely to dismantle settlements. He will be reluctant to force West Bank Jewish communities out of their homes. Of all the candidates, he is the one who will insist that the Palestinian government fulfill its obligations. He will most likely refuse to offer concessions unless the PA works to stop terrorism. He is not opposed to a Palestinian state, but wants to keep as much of Israels current land as possible in the interest of security from her surrounding enemies.
The man chosen to replace Ariel Sharon will profoundly influence the geopolitical future of Israel and the Middle East. Ultimately the future is in Gods hands. He has a plan for the nation of Israel, just as He has a plan for you and me. We believe there will be no real peace until the Prince of Peace arrives, but that may not be very long off. In the mean time, please continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the apple of Gods eye (Psalms 122:6, Zechariah 2:8).