Unified leadership needed in Mideast
The Israeli prime minister is not expected to recover from a massive stroke.
ISRAELI Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke has created a leadership vacuum that will be difficult to fill and could turn the Middle East peace process into chaos. Sharon personified the centrist Kadima party he founded only two months ago, and his followers will be hard-pressed to find new leadership in the months and years ahead.
Sharon departed the right-wing Likud Party because of opposition within its ranks to his efforts to find peace with Palestinians. He moved Israeli settlers out of the Gaza Strip last year and in creating Kadima said he would seek to "determine the final borders" of Israel.
His creation of the party left Benjamin Netanyahu in leadership of the right-wing remains of Likud and, in Sharon's absence, with a dangerous opportunity to be elected prime minister in the election scheduled for March 28. Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmer, now acting prime minister, lacks his leader's popularity and stature.
Olmer is among several former Likud ministers who were seasoned by Shimon Peres, the 82-year-old elder statesman who joined the Kadima Party after being defeated as Labor Party leader by former trade union leader Amir Peretz. Peres could bolster Kadima by encouraging centrist voters to leave Labor and support the new party's ticket. A dismantling of the Kadima Party could be devastating.
The situation is made worse by the ineffectiveness of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian president. Abbas, who faces strong opposition by Hamas militants in Jan. 25 elections that might be postponed, has been unable to control lawlessness in Gaza and prevent rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel.
The departure of Sharon as the only strong force in achieving peace in the Middle East creates a void that would be filled best by multiple leaders from both Israeli and Palestinian sides.
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