"The feeling of relief flooding Ariel Sharon on Monday was unmistakable like a life prisoner who has been set free, or a woman who finally got a divorce from an abusive husband."
Israeli politics is currently experiencing an earthquake. Ariel Sharon is leaving Likud and forming a new party. Early polls suggest Sharon would win an election held in 2006 but it's early days and Israeli politics is never known for its stability. Small, often extremist, parties have long held sway in the Jewish state.
What does all this mean for the Israel/Palestine conflict? Very difficult to say. Sharon is no peace-maker. This is a man who has long taken pleasure in expanding Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and crushing Palestinian dissent with brute force. In recent times, however, many of his Likud colleagues have expressed an even more extreme ideology than Sharon. Sharon now acknowledges that some West Bank settlements will have to be removed in any final deal, but "there is no additional disengagement plan."
Ultimately, it's important to place current events into perspective. The occupation continues unabated. Both Labor and Likud have long colluded in maintaining the occupation, so a change in government next year may be only cosmetic. A debate last week in Birmingham - between Israeli historian Ilan Pappe and David Hirsch, an opponent of the academic boycott of Israel - reminded us that while the brutal occupation continues and Jewish-only roads allow Israel to be labelled an apartheid state, discussing the leader of the country remains secondary at best.
Peace in the region will only come when both sides acknowledge the suffering and history of the other. The occupation must end. The Palestinian right of return must be fairly negotiated. Jerusalem must be split in two. Arabs and Palestinians must not be treated as second-class citizens in their own land.