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After Night In Hospital, Prime Minister Sharon To Undergo More Tests After Suffering Minor Stroke

From Hospital Bed, Sharon Telephones: 'Apparently I Overdid It, I Should Have Taken A Few Days Off'

Sharon's Minor Stroke Raises Major Questions In Election Campaign

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's sudden collapse and hospitalization have sent new shock waves through Israel and the Middle East

PM Ariel Sharon

The doctors are speaking optimistically about a full recovery for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after he was rushed to the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem after apparently losing consciousness. But in the midst of a bitter election campaign, the Israeli public will now be seeking clear-cut answers on the state of Sharon's health, now more crucial than ever after he single-handedly quit the ruling Likud to form the new Kadima party. Public opinion polls have consistently shown Kadima to have all other political parties far behind. However, in light of Sharon's illness, what will the next polls indicate?

Ariel Sharon's sudden collapse has propelled Israel into uncharted territory. Although Sharon's personal physician speaks optimistically about a full and swift recovery, huge question marks hang in the air.

The Prime Minister's office, Sunday evening: Ariel Sharon has just finished another hectic day. He first chairs the regular cabinet session and then meets with Shimon Peres. The Prime Minister complains he is not feeling well and as his motorcade leaves Jerusalem for his ranch in the Negev, his condition deteriorates while he is talking by telephone with his eldest son Gilad. Gilad tells the Security Service officer to head back immediately for Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital. The motorcade spins around and speeds to Hadassah which is only minutes away.

Hadassah Ein-Kerem hospital

Sharon reportedly lost consciousness briefly while on the way. He is rushed on a gurney into the emergency room. On his arrival, the PM was said to be 'disoriented and unable to speak'. News flashes on radio and TV stations bombard a nation in a state of shock. Sharon immediately undergoes an MIR brain scan and is diagnosed as having suffered a 'minor brain event'. Hadassah's deputy director issues a statement saying Sharon is in stable condition, no 'medical intervention' will be necessary and that he will be released soon. The cabinet secretary also announces that Sharon is fully conscious and there is no need to transfer his powers to deputy premier Ehud Olmert. Sharon had requested to be sent home but the doctors ordered him to remain overnight in hospital. Sharon's personal physician Professor Goldman, who rushed to the hospital, said Sharon was 'in good spirits joking with those around him'. The diagnosis was a shortage of blood supply to the brain through a vein. There had been no prior symptoms and other than being overweight Sharon passed his latest medical in good health. Sharon would receive drugs to dilute his blood and could return to a full workload.Unlike the U.S. and some other countries, the PM's medicals are confidential; Sharon has only one a year. In an attempt to downplay the event , Sharon telephoned major newspapers and TV stations to crack: 'I guess I overdid it. Apparently I should have taken a few days off.'

The Morning After: Sharon spent a quiet night, and the morning after he was walking around his hospital room and about to undergo more tests at Hadassah hospital. But what was described as Sharon's 'minor stroke' has raised major political questions. Whether the Prime Minister is kept in hospital under observation or whether he is sent home to rest is important but irrelevant; a new acute political situation has developed overnight.

Political Aftermath: Ariel Sharon has towered over the Israeli political scene as no other leader since Menachem Begin and David Ben-Gurion. Not only did he ramrod last summer's Gaza disengagement through his own right wing Likud party. Sharon then bolted to form a new centrist party Kadima that is frontrunner in the current election campaign. His departure left the Likud in shambles. At age seventy-seven, the Prime Minister had attained a seemingly unassailable status and mainstream Israel was galvanizing behind him. His force of personality has persuaded many Likudniks to forsake the 'Land of Israel' ideology and adopt a pragmatic and, if need be, unilateral approach to the Palestinians. Incredibly, this new emerging political edifice rests on the shoulders of one man, Ariel Sharon. Just hours after he was rushed to Hadassah hospital, it was impossible to foresee how Israeli voters would react. Sharon's creation Kadima enjoys massive support solely because of the belief in the Prime Minister. But will many of these supporters now have second thoughts if they fear that Sharon may be incapacitated and Ehud Olmert might take over?

Despite the stories of political corruption swirling around him and his two sons, Ariel Sharon has dwarfed all his political rivals on the right or left wings of Israeli politics. That has now been shaken.Knesset Member Arieh Eldad of the far right National Union is a professor of medicine at Hadassah hospital in private life. Eldad now demands full disclosure of the prime minister's medical tests saying that a significant number of stroke victims die within a year of their first attack. Under Israeli law, in the event the prime minister is incapacitated and cannot fulfill his office, the deputy premier takes control and a general election is to be held within ninety days. The law is vague on who decides whether the PM cannot carry on. When Sharon appointed Ehud Olmert as his deputy, this was perceived more as a temporary role - for example, when the Prime Minister was abroad. But now after Sharon's stroke, this becomes really serious. So, one of the first steps will be for Kadima (i.e. Sharon) to start thinking about a real deputy for Sharon who may have to step in and run the country. The fact is that although Israel is a parliamentary democracy, Sharon has become more of a president in a republic rather than a prime minister, the 'first among equals' around the cabinet table. If so, 'President' Sharon should appoint his real Vice-President like in the U.S. However, at this stage in an election campaign, Olmert will likely keep the job.

Likud Leadership Race: If Silvan Shalom had a fighting chance of upsetting Bibi Netanyahu that has probably gone by the board. Many Likudniks blamed Netanyahu for Sharon's quitting the party, but they may now back Netanyahu who is a tougher and more charismatic campaigner if they feel it's a new ball game. In any case, the Likud will now be energized in the election campaign believing it can sway former Likudniks 'to return home'. The Newsweek story about Sharon partitioning Jerusalem and withdrawing from most of the West Bank supplies more ammunition. Labor: After his initial spike, party leader Amir Peretz has slumped without a viable Palestinian policy to complement his popular socio-economic platform. Sharon's illness will also spur on Peretz who albeit is woefully inexperienced in security and foreign affairs. One result could be that he will have his own second thoughts and realize he now needs archrival Ehud Barak to champion Labor's security policy. Shinui & Meretz: These two parties who lost many supporters to Sharon's Kadima party can be counted on to redouble their efforts to induce them to return to the fold.

Leadership & Illness: Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin suffered a mild heart attack in 1977 which was hushed up at the time. Begin went on to be elected and sign a peace treaty with Egypt. Labor's Golda Meir was secretly treated for cancer while serving as prime minister without the public or the media ever knowing about her condition. For whatever reason, the health of Israeli politicians has until now been viewed as private and confidential. Although there may still be a reticence to delve into the details, this is probably about to change after Ariel Sharon was rushed to hospital.

Politically, the new Kadima party which is a 'one man show' is now vulnerable. The fact is that Ariel Sharon in the current Israeli configuration is irreplaceable. The Prime Minister must prove decisively in the days ahead that he is as strong a leader as ever; otherwise, his new political map could be in for some drastic alterations.

David Essing

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