(by Benny Avni, Jan. 5, 2006, NYSun.com) – Israel yesterday held its breath as Prime Minister Sharon went through a major medical procedure that required passing his leadership authority to his deputy, Ehud Olmert. The 77-year-old Mr. Sharon’s chances for a full recovery from what was described as a “significant stroke” were described by reports in the Israeli press as “slim.”

After six hours of surgery last night, a spokesman for Mr. Sharon said he was in stable condition. According to Israel Radio, the prime minister survived the operation.

Mr. Sharon’s medical condition reshuffled the Israeli political deck on the eve of an election, scheduled for March, that he was expected to win by a significant margin.

It also was watched outside Israel, including in the Arab world and Washington, where leaders expressed hope for the continuity of Mr. Sharon’s leadership.

“He has been a fighter his whole life,” Mr. Sharon’s spokesman, Raanan Gissin, said. “I hope he will win this battle as well.”

There will be no disruption in the functioning of the government or in Israel’s security, Mr. Gissin told The New York Sun. “Everything is done according to the law,” he said, adding that the Cabinet, under Mr. Olmert’s leadership, would meet this morning to assess the new situation.

“Laura and I share the concerns of the Israeli people,” President Bush said in a statement “We are praying for his recovery. Prime Minister Sharon is a man of courage and peace. On behalf of all Americans, we send our best wishes and hopes to the Prime Minister and his family.”

The leadership of the Palestinian Authority followed Mr. Sharon’s condition closely as well, fearing renewed turmoil in Gaza and the West Bank, where the fate of the election, scheduled for January 25, was thrown further into doubt. “Things change so quickly in the Middle East,” the Palestinian Arab United Nations observer, Riad Mansour, said.

According to Israeli law, the prime minister’s deputy is authorized to take over power for as many as 100 days, Israel Radio’s legal analyst, Moshe Negbi, said. An election, however, is already scheduled for March 28, after which the winner will compose a new Cabinet and assume the leadership of the country.

Despite heightened political rivalries, top Israeli politicians yesterday rushed to add their prayers for Mr. Sharon’s health. The right-wing Likud ministers who were scheduled to leave the Cabinet will remain, according to confidants of Likud’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. “The whole country is praying for Sharon’s recovery, and all the political considerations are set aside,” Mr. Netanyahu’s aide, Yechiel Leiter, told the Sun, citing “national responsibility” as the chief reason for considering remaining in the government.

Mr. Sharon recently created a new political party, Kadima, which was projected in national polls to win over the leftist Labor and the Likud, as well as smaller parties, by significant margins. The party, however, was built around the huge popularity of the prime minister, and its success largely depends on the public’s assumption that Mr. Sharon could continue to head the government.

The health condition of Mr. Sharon began deteriorating last night shortly before 10 p.m., Israel time. He had been scheduled to undergo a medical procedure today following a mild stroke he had suffered in early December. Mr. Gissin told the Sun earlier last night that although next Sunday’s Cabinet meeting would be postponed due to the procedure, Mr. Sharon would be back at work and on Monday he was scheduled to host Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan.

But all plans changed last night. As Mr. Sharon rested at his Sycamore ranch in southern Israel, he began feeling ill, had chest pains, and was rushed to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. The hospital’s director, Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, told reporters that the prime minister suffered “severe internal bleeding in his brain,” or cerebral hemorrhage, was on a respirator, and would undergo surgery to drain the bleeding.

Cabinet Secretary Israel Meymon then announced that all authority held by Mr. Sharon would be transferred to Mr. Olmert, who had been Mr. Sharon’s close confidant and political ally for the last few years. Cabinet ministers were contacted by Mr. Meymon as well. Mr. Olmert was updated all night at his home in Jerusalem.

Mr. Olmert, a former Jerusalem may or and a stalwart of the Likud party, stunned political observers some years ago as he increasingly dropped the party’s ideology stressing Israel’s legal rights for all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and instead began speaking of “separation” of the Jewish population from the Palestinian Arabs.

Mr. Sharon eventually joined him and the two began leading a process that culminated in last summer’s evacuations of all Israeli Gaza Strip settlers. Mr. Olmert became a target of critics from the right who said he would lead Mr. Sharon to further territorial compromise in the West Bank and perhaps beyond.

Late last year, Mr. Sharon decided to finally leave the Likud Party he had created in the late 1970s. Kadima was presented to Israeli voters as a centrist party, boasting leading figures from the Labor Party, such as Haim Ramon, as well as top Likud figures led by Mr. Olmert.

Last night’s orderly transfer of power was new to Israel’s politics, where past prime ministers’ health conditions were hidden from the public. In 1969, Prime Minister Eshkol formed the Labor Party on the eve of an election, and then suffered a heart attack, which was described as a mild condition. Shortly after, he died in office.

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.


1.  What happened to Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon?  Be specific.

2.  Under Israeli law, what happens with the leadership of Israel if the Prime Minister is no longer able to carry out his duties?

3.  What are the two main political parties in Israel (left-wing and right-wing)?  What is the name of the new party Mr. Sharon recently created?  Is it leftist or right-wing?

4.  Who is Ehud Olmert?  Why were Likud party members critical of Mr. Olmert?

5.  What will be a problem in the upcoming election if Mr. Sharon is no longer Prime Minister?  (If you’re not sure, search for additional news articles about Mr. Sharon to find the answer.)
You can search two Israeli newspapers: The Jerusalem Post or Haaretz.


For a map of Israel, go to WorldAtlas.com.

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