On Jerusalem streets, shock and fading hope

On the surface it seemed to be business as usual on the streets of Jerusalem Thursday. But neither the colorful vendors of the Mahaneh Yehuda market nor the local residents and tourists shopping on Rehov Ben-Yehuda could ignore the gravity and impact of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's most recent life-threatening stroke. "I've been praying for him all day," sighed Dalia Maron, a regular visitor to the market. "Whatever you say about him, one simply cannot hate a man who has dedicated his life to our state." A combined sentiment of shock, confusion and fading hope for Sharon's recovery was shared by a large number of people interviewed, though some like Aron Namer, a Lotto employee, chose instead to focus on the future of Israeli politics and the upcoming elections. "Should Sharon not recover in time I would like to see Shimon Peres take over as prime minister, but certainly not Ehud Olmert," he said. "If not Peres, however, then in my opinion Amir Peretz could certainly do the job." In the haredi neighborhood of Mea She'arim there was a rather mixed response to the day's unfolding events. Shopkeeper Yinun Eli believed that Sharon's ill-health would undoubtedly signal "the end of Kadima," resulting in Binyamin Netanyahu being reinstated as prime minister. However, he expressed a degree of skepticism about the latter's ability to be as successful as Sharon in the international political arena, since Sharon "was the only leader who did what the world wanted." However, Yosef Wiener, a tourist from Rhode Island who described himself as a Republican, was convinced that a Netanyahu victory would actually be very positive for Israel in its relations with the US because "the Likud's party policies are more in line with those of George Bush and the Republican party." There were also a small number of people such as Ethiopian immigrant Almaz Alamu, who by early afternoon had still not heard the news, while others like Pinny Beni, from Ramat Beit Shemesh, said he thought that President George W. Bush's initial response to the news might be that "Sharon should have gone on a diet." Others like recent French immigrant Sophie Berrih, from Ra'anana, maintained that Israeli politics was something of a mystery, though she did go on to say that Kadima still sounded like the best option "because of its centrist policies."