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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 January 2006, 19:33 GMT
Can Kadima survive without Sharon?
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC Diplomatic correspondent

While the condition of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appears to be stable, it is hard to see him being capable of returning to the grinding pace of an election campaign.

A billboard with a picture of Ariel Sharon next to a slogan that reads in Hebrew "a strong leader for peace"
Sharon quit Likud to form the centrist Kadima (Forward) party
Thoughts are therefore turning to the shape of Israeli politics without Mr Sharon at the helm.

Most attention is focused on the fate of his new centrist party, Kadima, and whether it can survive without the active participation of its founder.

It is easy to write-off Kadima as just a personal vehicle - one built around a single man that will have difficulty out-living its founder.

Shared vision

But Kadima was built around a man with a very particular vision - a vision increasingly shared by a large swathe of Israeli society.

Mr Sharon's vision is that today it is demography, and not Arab armies, that are the chief threat to Israel's security.

A key question may be how Mr Olmert fares as prime minister

If a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians proves impossible, then, according to the Sharon view, Israel should take unilateral steps to withdraw from as much Palestinian territory as possible.

It is a view widely shared by the Kadima leadership.

Indeed, the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was one of the chief architects of the initial disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip.

Uncertainty

If Ariel Sharon is unable to pursue an active political career the future depends upon three key questions:

  • How entrenched is the support for further unilateral action?
  • Without the personal appeal of Mr Sharon could sufficient voters simply drift back to the right-wing Likud Party?
  • Can Kadima rally smoothly around a new leader - presumably Mr Olmert - or will it suffer a bruising internal leadership struggle?

A campaign ticket that links Ehud Olmert with a prominent future role for the former Labour leader Shimon Peres could be attractive to many voters.

But another key question may be how Mr Olmert fares as prime minister in the three months leading up to the Israeli general election.

Incumbency gives him a significant advantage, but he could face serious challenges both on the military front from Palestinian and Lebanese radicals and on the political front at home.


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