At midnight Wednesday night, Ariel Sharon death watch was in full swing, and the Thursday morning papers feature huge front page packages dedicated to the former prime minister, the news of his worsening condition and appreciations for the massive mark he left on Israeli history, making one wonder how they will trump that once he actually dies.
The prognosis of hours or days to live echoes throughout the articles about Sharon, who has been in a coma for eight years almost to the day and on Wednesday began to suffer organ failure.
“The body is a single unit, a system that can be imagined as a domino setup. If one of them falls, it creates a rolling effect which is difficult to stop, and can even bring death in hours or days,” writes Dr. Avraham Lazari, the head of a brain injury unit in Tel Aviv, in Israel Hayom.
Sharon’s legacy, colored by his days as a maverick fighter, settlement pioneer, disgraced defense minister and dovish prime minister who ended Israel’s venture into the Gaza Strip, will be hashed over a thousand times in the coming days if he slips into death as the doctors say he is likely to do.
Maariv gets the appreciations started early with three long columns on the Bulldozer, including one written by the late former Maariv editor Amnon Danker when Sharon first collapsed in 2006.
The paper’s Ben Dror Yemini writes that Sharon’s greatest strength and greatest legacy will be as a man who was not afraid to act on sobering truths.
“Sharon is a model of a politician who is able to turn back,” he writes. “A politician who understands that his life’s work was a mistake. A politician who becomes a statesmen. There are times in history when we need people like that. Now, exactly in these days, we need Sharon’s legacy of sobering up. A cautious realization. A sobering up that also takes failure into account.”
In Yedioth Ahronoth, Marit Danon, who served as secretary for a host of prime ministers including Sharon, writes touchingly of how she misses Sharon’s leadership.
“[The] soft, sure voice I also heard in the Prime Minister’s Office communication system. I miss that more than anything. The humble, sure, measured leadership. That which assured me that we have whom to rely on, that there is a responsible adult. Natural leadership that no prime minister school could teach,” she writes. “For whatever reason, I never called him by his name. It was always ‘prime minister.’ The name ‘Arik’ never left my lips. Now, on paper, I can say: Arik, I miss you, a lot.”
Et tu, Yvet?
Haaretz is the only paper to not lead with Sharon, choosing peace talks instead to mark US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 10th trip to the region. The paper reports that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, doing his best Ariel Sharon impression, has thrown his weight behind the talks and Kerry, which the paper sees as a sea change for the hawkish politician.
“Liberman’s positive statements about Kerry are partly due to his efforts to turn over a new leaf with the US administration, after his first term as foreign minister was marked by considerable tension with Washington,” the paper reports. “Liberman’s first meeting after returning to the Foreign Ministry in November was with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro; his first speech was devoted to urging the government to tone down its dispute with Washington over Iran’s nuclear program; and his first working trip abroad was to Washington. But his positive statements are also due to a significant change in Washington’s attitude toward him since his return as foreign minister. A month ago, Kerry hosted Liberman at a breakfast in Washington. Senior American and Israeli officials who attended the event said it was an excellent meeting — perhaps the best Liberman has ever had with a senior American official.”
Yedioth reports that Kerry’s arrival means Netanyahu has pushed off announcement of new settlement building, which is widely expected in the wake of the latest prisoner release. The paper writes that the prime minister called Housing Minister Uri Ariel to request that he postpone the announcement until after Kerry leaves on Sunday. But diplomatic officials say the delay is essentially meaningless.
“What’s important is that Israel is not folding in the face of pressure and is building as was agreed upon at the beginning of talks, that every release of terrorists will be accompanied by settlement building,” a diplomat is quoted as saying.
Maariv follows up on its scoop from the day before regarding a plan to transfer the Arab triangle north of the West Bank, along with its 300,000 inhabitants, to Palestinian sovereignty in exchange for settlement blocs under a peace deal, with the unsurprising news that those 300,000 Arab Israelis are none too pleased to hear they may become Palestinians.
“This is a disgusting proposal which treats Arab citizens as pieces on a chessboard that can be moved and switched,” MK Ahmed Tibi, who would become a Palestinian under the proposal, is quoted as saying. “No proposal with a population transfer will be accepted by the residents and by the Palestinian Authority.”
In Haaretz, Ari Shavit writes that Netanyahu’s response to Kerry’s framework agreement will mean much more than just the paper its on, freighting his decision with fateful importance.
“For Netanyahu, the coming weeks will be difficult weeks. If he says ‘yes’ to Kerry, he will be saying ‘yes’ to the 1967 borders, with some adjustments, and to a Jerusalem that isn’t undivided. If he says ‘no’ to Kerry, he will be saying ‘no’ to Israel’s international legitimacy and to its ability to protect itself from Iran. If he gambles on movement toward peace, he will be leading Israel’s ‘national camp’ to adopt the Meretz platform. If he remains loyal to the Likud’s historic positions, he will bear responsibility for Israel becoming isolated and suffering serious diplomatic and economic distress.”