Sharon's legacy four years on

Legacy that reminded many of de Gaulle increasingly resembles Juan Peron’s.

juan eva peron 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
juan eva peron 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hard to believe, but the fourth anniversary of Ariel Sharon’s political departure has passed unnoticed. The fingerprints of the man who seized the Israeli mainstream and seemed poised to lastingly shape the Jewish state’s future are gone.
Much has been said about the abruptness of Sharon’s exit and the qualities of Sharon the man, but little thought has been paid to Sharonism, the tender baby he left – toothless, hungry and shivering – on Middle Israel’s doorstep. Four years on, the baby has yet to chew, digest and walk, let alone talk, laugh and play with other kids.
Why this is remains a matter of medical curiosity.
Some think the child was doomed to die because he was born in sin. Others argue that with better foster parents he could have survived and even thrived. Some point to the child’s unique respiratory system, which makes it difficult for him to breathe while away from a high seat. Others dwell on a cognition problem, which splits his brain between a talk-to-Hamas right lobe and a talk-to-Mahmoud Abbas left lobe, while his perennially squinting eyes look simultaneously right, where Uncle Shaul thinks he should play, and left, where Aunt Dalia still has friends, and nowhere, where Mother Tzipi leads him every morning anew.
Then again, unique as this baby’s situation is, it isn’t new. Medical literature has chronicled two previous cases similar to Sharonism’s. One is called Peronism, the other Gaullism. The two not only endured the kind of hardships Sharonism now faces, they matured, prospered and in fact had children of their own.
JUAN PERON, to be sure, was no Charles de Gaulle. As a general he saw no action, certainly not the kind de Gaulle saw, and as a politician he condemned a promising economy to decline with a populism that bred strikes, inflation, debt and stagnation. Ultimately his first and main ten years in power ended the way his political career began: with a coup.
De Gaulle’s record was much more impressive. True, he was no Sharon. While parting with Gaza was in some ways reminiscent of de Gaulle’s parting with Algeria, he could only dream at night about military feats on the scale of Sharon’s. Yet he reconsolidated a chronically splintered political system, ended France’s Algerian misadventure and played a key role in uniting West Europe around a Franco-German axis. It is no wonder, then, that Gaullism outlived its founder and produced a series of presidents and prime ministers that the dying Sharonism doubtfully ever will.
Frustrated medical researchers note that Peron, de Gaulle and Sharon had several things in common, besides having all hailed from the military: They were charismatic, resolute and opportunistic, and they left behind political bastards whose foster parents capitalized on the real parents’ aura though obviously lacking their blood, brains and guts.
In France, this meant that a hodgepodge of nationalists, populists and conservatives scrambled for a chance to get lost in de Gaulle’s oversized shoes. Yes, they tried each in his turn to honor France, please the markets and keep the welfare state intact and the people happy, but lacking their political inspiration’s charisma and vision, people like Georges Pompidou, Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Jacques Chirac ended up tragic figures whose Gaullist quests were but a reminder of their own Lilliputian dimensions.
In Argentina, even more unlikely bedfellows, from unions and fascists to Catholics and Marxists, each found its place around the ideologically vague Peron’s apron. That is why Peronism returned 15 years after Peron’s death. For Carlos Menem’s decade in power, it suddenly meant pro-American diplomacy and conservative economics, the very opposites of Peron’s nonalignment and industrial nationalization.
That is what Peronism was, and that is also what Sharonism is becoming.
SHARONISM CANNOT stage a comeback as a version of Gaullism. Not because Livni et al. are no match for the likes of Jacques Chirac, but because Sharon, with all due respect to his outperforming of de Gaulle the general, did not match the Frenchman’s political delivery.
Yes, Sharon began to redo the political system he had previously helped ruin, and to undo the damage he wrought when he turned the settlement ideal into a social divider – but he never even articulated these goals, let alone accomplished them. De Gaulle did. He may have lacked Sharon’s wit and agility, but he reunited French society, stabilized French politics and disabused France of its occupation. That is why Gaullism did not need its founder’s charisma and vision. Its task was mainly to maintain its founding spirit’s accomplishments, while treading a middle road between right and left.
Yet the fact that Sharonism can’t be Gaullism doesn’t mean it can’t be Peronism. In fact, it already is.
Peronism was effectively a celebration of U-turns, cynicism and hypocrisy wrapped in the rustling cellophane of political opera. That is also the essence of Sharonism.
Sharonists saw their leader abandon his own greater-Israel tenets and concluded that politics was but a costume party. One could veer with impunity from “Likud is my only home” to “I have decided to leave Likud,” as Shaul Mofaz did within 48 hours back when Sharonism was born. Now Sharonism certainly means you can say, “I am not joining Bibi because he won’t say ‘two-state solution,’” and then when he actually says the magic words still ignore your own commitment, never explaining why. And of course it means taking decisions for the party while ignoring it; that is what Sharon did and that is what Peron did.
In fact, Sharonism has transcended Sharon’s party and become a whole Zeitgeist.
That is why Ehud Barak could say in the evening “the voter has sent usto the opposition,” and in the morning join the coalition. “Who cares,”he might have said to himself. “If super-hawk Tzahi Hanegbi can pose asa Kadima dove and join the opposition alongside Meretz, then I – theguy who offered Yasser Arafat the Temple Mount – can sit in agovernment alongside Bennie Begin and Avigdor Lieberman.”
And so, four years after Sharon’s departure, Sharonism’s eulogies mustbe dismissed as premature. In fact, it is the call of our future –assuming, of course, there is no de Gaulle waiting in the wings.