The most remarkable thing about post-Sharon Israel is that it’s unremarkable.
Well, here it is, barely a week after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was struck down by a cerebral hemorrhage.
And considering the circumstances, the most remarkable thing about life in Israel today is how unremarkable it is.
There haven’t been any attempted military coups, there aren’t any free-for-all pile-ons of prime ministerial wannabes scrambling for the title of successor, and there is no anarchy or panic in the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
In a testament to the strong fabric of its deeply entrenched democratic values, Israel’s behavior during the current crisis has been exemplary. Acting prime minister Ehud Olmet has proved his mettle so far, acting responsibly restraining his usual baravado and flippancy, and performing like… well… a prime minister.
As Olmert said last week at the beginning of the first government cabinet meeting he convened in place of Sharon, “We will pay attention, we will pray and we will believe that we will hear good news from Hadassah-Ein Kerem Hospital. In the meantime, we will continue to do what Arik would want – running affairs as they should be. Israeli democracy is strong and all institutions are functioning in a stable, serious and responsible manner; this is as it should be and this is how it will continue.”
Israel’s strong democratic system of government includes precise rules and procedures to deal with whatever situation develops from Sharon’s illness, which made the transition from Sharon to Olmert seamless. In the areas where Olmert?s precise powers are unclear or temporary, his political foes have given him a wide berth, respecting his position in this delicate situation.
In addition to well-established political traditions, Israel has a strong judiciary, a relatively strong economy and a strong defense system to help it weather any internal changes. Of course, the external threats are still as prevalent as ever.
As diplomatic correspondent Aluf Ben wrote in Ha’aretz last week, “Israel is considered to have strategic capabilities that only a few countries in the world possess. It is in a state of war with the Palestinians, Syria and Hizbullah, and the president of Iran wants to destroy it. Nonetheless, the shakeup in the Israeli leadership has not given rise to extraordinary public anxiety or to fears on the part of the international community.”
Even though he doesn’t possess the military background of Sharon, or past Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, Olmert was regularly included by Sharon in consultations and discussions related to sensitive areas. And he has a rich stable of security officials and staff who will surely advise him wisely if any decisions need to be made.
Another area where the democratic nature of the country shone through brightly was in the transparency with which the prime minister’s condition was dealt with by the Hadassah administration and the media. There was no shrouded secrecy, or media blackouts. With round the clock coverage and regular medical briefings, there was – if anything – overkill leaning to the other side, with the public and reporters being informed of every twist and turn in the complex series of operations Sharon underwent.
As each day passes, with slightly more encouraging news, Israelis are quickly returning to their routines – filling the cafes, the soccer stadiums and the cinemas. There was – and is – still sorrow and concern over the condition of the nation’s prime minister, but that concern is tempered with the realization that the sky didn’t fall, the country continued to function, and that democracy in Israel doesn’t rely on the powers of just its leaders.
And that is a cause for muted celebration.