The Unthinkable: The return of the king

As far as he was concerned, he was still in charge.

Ariel Sharon illustration (photo credit: Eeli Polli/MCT)
Ariel Sharon illustration
(photo credit: Eeli Polli/MCT)
It was the desert air that did it. Or maybe the close proximity to his beloved’s anemone-covered grave – and the strength that she always gave him. Whatever it was, medicine, love or magic, the king finally awoke from his slumber. A dramatic recovery that some had been earnestly praying for, and others just as earnestly praying against.
Just a few short days after leaving the hospital where he had been lying in a coma for five years, a shadow of his former self, bruised, with half his cranium missing, and weak, the king opened his eyes and sat up, in his own bed, in his own home – the place he loved most in the world, Sycamore Ranch. He stood up, put a white bandage over his head wound, dressed in his beloved khakis and walked to the kitchen on his wobbly legs.
He was ravenous. The kitchen was well-stocked; his dutiful sons had kept it so in the certain belief that he would awake and need a steak to regain his strength. After eating a hearty meal, the king surveyed his castle, inspected his livestock and visited his wife’s grave to commune with the spirit of the woman who had gone everywhere with him. His strength and faith returned, the king took big strides back to his chambers, where he commanded his sons to gather his old circle of advisers. “I need to hurry up and get back to work, to move forward,” he told them.
THE COUNCIL gathers with all the familiar faces. He looks them over, and says authoritatively, “Report. What’s our situation?”
The political adviser speaks first. “In your absence, sir, the populace has hardened its positions, but there still is a general will for peace with all of our neighbors. The longer peace doesn’t come, though, the more chance of frustration and violence, and the harder people’s hearts become. The nation is disillusioned, and the ‘peace camp’ has not captured the center.
“The party you founded to forge peace has been ousted to the opposition. It is headed now by Princess Tzipora, but she has not solidified unity around her leadership and still does not inspire confidence in the people. The former top leaders of your party no longer fill its ranks: One is in jail for embezzlement; another is spending his time in court defending against several charges of impropriety; yet another was indicted for a sexual offense and was booted out; and another one was forced to resign for lying to judges.
“While the party still breathes, it is suffering a crisis of leadership, with a large group of rebels threatening to abandon it and join the opposing camp. Leading the country now is the Great Pretender, your old nemesis, who has assembled a hawkish coalition with which he cannot make peace. Perhaps this is why he assembled such a coalition, loyal but immovable religious and nationalist hard-liners.
“My assessment is that he has decided not to forge a peace deal based on the separation of the two neighboring peoples. He has, instead, spent all of his energies on maintaining his coalition, that is to stay on the throne. He is, as always, being led instead of leading. He has, however, begun to understand that he who sits on the throne must eventually cross the Rubicon. He is still resisting this, and clinging desperately to his credibility, which as you well know, sir, is a tool to be used for expediency, not a permanent bedrock of character.
“Your former allies on the Left, who occupy seats in his government, are embroiled in constant bickering (they even publicly call each other morons) and are on the verge of disintegrating, and this worries the Great Pretender, as he will have only his natural allies left with him, and nobody to give him the credibility of the peacemaker he says he is ready to become. He speaks, but does not do.”
Next the security adviser. “Sir, the borders are not yet defined, and we still occupy the Palestinians. There is pressure by the Palestinian king to define his borders unilaterally, which would put us in a very difficult position. He has lost half of his kingdom to extremist bandits, and he wants half of our eternal capital. He has much support for this from foreign kings hostile to us, those who brand us as insatiable colonialists. We pull our forces out of his cities and help him defeat his own adversaries, but he has not budged one inch toward peace with us.
“The Great Enemy to the east is gathering a huge army and is close to assembling the ultimate weapon. He says he will wipe us off the map. His agents are everywhere, near and far, and they are ready to pounce over our borders. At the same time, our ultimate weapon (according to foreign scribes) is coming under intense scrutiny, as our Great Ally wishes to rid our region of ultimate weapons.
“Insofar as our Great Ally supports and loves us, his forces are fighting two large, unsuccessful wars, his coffers are empty, his subjects are grumbling and his great rivals are becoming bolder as his power wanes. As always, we have to be prepared to rely only on ourselves. We fought a war with our enemy to the north, an agent of the Great Enemy. Sir, we did not defeat him, and he has now become as strong as the strongest dragon. He has also taken control of the Kingdom of the Cedars.
“Your army is strong, but is steadily having its arms tied behind its back by international agitators and lawyers. Our former friend the Turk has turned his back on us and is allying with our enemies. This is dangerous; he is strong and he believes God is with him. He even sent a provocative armada to break the blockade on the bandits to our southwest, who we fought a war against, sir, and did not defeat.
“We intercepted the Turk’s flotilla, but suffered severe diplomatic damage. Our standing in foreign courts is plunging and we are being painted as an evil kingdom; they are linking our past tragedies with our current ‘crimes’; our national heritage sites are no longer being recognized; foreign musical troupes are canceling their appearances; our ministers and officers cannot travel beyond our borders for fear of arrest or assassination; and, sir, we have a soldier captive in Gaza for more than four years now.
“The current security situation is fragile, volatile and has a high potential of erupting. At the same time, relative calm has continued to prevail along our borders.
Relative calm, however, has not been present in the offices of the minister of war and the first knight – the two have been at each other’s throats more viciously than either has been at the throats of our foreign enemies. Worryingly, there is talk of improper goings-on in the office of the first knight, with possible stealing of important secrets; his personal weapon was also stolen, and his bodyguard involved in a serious sexual crime. Optimistically, the incoming first knight is a loyal friend of yours and is sure to be better behaved.”
The home affairs adviser: “Sir, there is constant death and destruction on the kingdom’s roads and the situation is not improving; the high-speed carriageway between the capital and the coast, which you ordered built, is nowhere near completion; alcoholism and violence among the youth are on the rise, and so is the killing of children by their parents.
“Citizens are boycotting each other, and ethnic tension in mixed cities has reached epidemic proportions. Hospitals are overcrowded, and health funds are corrupt; the police are underfunded; housing prices are out of the reach of the majority; we are losing contact with our brethren across the seas as our religious authorities harden their positions; our character as an enlightened nation is being eroded by sectoral loyalty oaths, free speech clampdowns, academic constrictions and selective housing policies. Shoes are thrown at judges, and even their cars are being bombed.”
“ENOUGH. I’ve heard enough,” the king says, and swivels his chair to the window to look out across the fields of his beloved farm. After a long, silent moment he swivels back and looks his advisers in the eyes. As far as he is concerned, this is still his kingdom, he is still its leader; he was not deposed, there was no revolution and he is still in charge.
He had no friends in the world of politics; he could lead, he could take big steps, paint broad strokes. He was always more comfortable with his sheep and cows than he was with the court politicians. Kings are not sheep, they are not led. They take big decisions. Politicians try to stay popular.
The king bangs his large hand on the table.
“Start working. Simply start working. We have to capture the hearts and minds of the people,” he tells his advisers. “If both sides want peace, there will be peace. Both sides need peace.
“You know, eheh, I said clearly, more than once, yes, that holding 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a very bad thing, yes, for Israel and the Palestinians, and not good for our economy. I don’t like that word, eheh, occupation, you know, but that’s what it is, an occupation.
“Bring me the ambassador of our Great Ally. A king cannot allow the weakening of his greatest alliance. We must help them now when they need us. Connect me with the Palestinian king, I have a clearly formulated deal for him. I know what he wants, and I know what I want. And pack my bags, I’m going to see the Turk, face to face.
“As for the pretender to the throne, I’ve beaten down challenges from him before. With ease, yes, eheh. I’ll do it again.”