soldier prays 298.
(photo credit: )
As we pray for the recovery of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, we must already recognize that Israel has lost one of its greatest leaders. Even those who would bitterly deny Sharon's greatness in the sense of leading the nation in the right direction cannot dispute the dimensions of the decisions he led the nation through, which are perhaps unmatched since his mentor David Ben-Gurion's day.
Sharon seemed headed for an electoral victory even greater than his two previous wins, this time at the head of Kadima, the new party he founded. After he suffered what seemed to be a minor stroke three weeks ago, he seemed no less invincible, physically or politically.
Now, however, we have no choice but to contemplate our nation's future without Sharon. It is a measure of the strength of our democracy that no one can imagine anything other than the smooth transition of power to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and there is no concern for the basic functioning of government as elections approach.
As it happens, continuity in government seems to be exactly what the public was poised to vote for in the coming elections. Without Sharon, however, it is not clear what continuity means.
On Wednesday, speaking at an event celebrating the sale of a controlling share of Bank Leumi, Sharon said, "I intend to continue on this path in accordance with the diplomatic plan that I have implemented.... I am certain that this will contribute both to Israel's security and to its economy."
This might have been a departure from his usual denials of future unilateral withdrawals and his claims that the road map is his only plan. But the fact that one has to read such ambiguous statements like tea leaves shows that, in reality, Sharon has given the public no clear idea where he was headed.
Sharon could afford this high degree of ambiguity because a majority of the public was ready to trust his judgment to a degree that no other current political leader could match. Now, not only have we lost Sharon as prime minister, but what seemed to have become the largest party has lost its founder, leader and organizing principle.
It is at this point that democracy reveals its resilience as a system of government, and we reveal our often unappreciated strength as a democracy.
It remains to be seen whether Sharon's inheritors in Kadima will succeed in demonstrating the coherence of their party. But since Kadima's electoral strength resided in the public, the consensus it reflects continues to exist and will make itself felt through the political system, whether or not Kadima succeeds in representing it.
Some, in these suddenly uncertain times, have suggested that now is the wrong time to hold a divisive election campaign. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, however, has rightly ruled that elections should be held as scheduled almost three months from now. Elections are exactly what are needed to resolve the uncertainty that Sharon's departure from political life has caused.
Accordingly, it is all the more important that each of the major parties coherently and distinctly tell the public what they stand for - not just what, or who, they stand against. This is especially true for Kadima, which can no longer rest so significantly on the power of one political personality. It will not be enough to pledge to continue Sharon's path since, again, the public could only guess what Sharon's next step would have been.
We hope that the campaign ahead will reflect both the current somber circumstances and the need to show leadership and debate substance, rather than engaging in personal mudslinging. Power vacuums do not lend themselves to such tidy campaigns, but the public will likely punish those who it believes do not rise to this sad occasion.
Even if he cannot return to political life, we, along with millions of Israelis and admirers of his courage the world over, pray that Sharon himself will be able to tell us more about what he had planned for the future. We hope that Sharon's contribution to the nation that he was born in, loved, fought for in all its wars and, finally, was leading into its future, has not ended.