Doctors in Jerusalem are continuing to gradually bring prime minister
Ariel Sharon out of his medically induced coma. According to the latest
, “doctors have expressed amazement at the 77-year-old leader’s powers
of recovery,” but he is nonetheless expected to remain in hospital for
several months. Barring a miracle, his political career seems to be over.

But even while comatose, Sharon was capable of confounding
expectations. Last week, commentators worried that his removal from the
scene would deal a mortal blow to the peace process, and that his new
party, Kadima, would be rudderless without him. But that’s not what the
polls show
. On the back of a sympathy vote for Sharon, Kadima’s support
is soaring.

If these trends hold, Kadima will dominate parliament after the March
28 election. But without Sharon, a greater role will fall to its other
star recruit, former Labour leader Shimon Peres, who lacks Sharon’s
attachment to the West Bank settlements and aversion to negotiation with
the Palestinians. And since Kadima will still need another party to give
it a majority, Labour will be its obvious ally, with new leader Amir Peretz strongly committed to negotiations.

Already there are signs of liberalisation, with the government under
acting prime minister Ehud Olmert expected this weekend to approve voting arrangements in East Jerusalem for the Palestinian

News this morning is that the four
ministers from Sharon’s former party, the right-wing Likud, are
resigning from the government in preparation for the election. But Likud
faces an uphill struggle to regain relevance. With the perspective given
by Sharon’s stroke, the bitter attacks on him by Likud leader Benjamin
Netanyahu will look more and more indefensible.

What sort of peace Sharon planned to implement, had he remained in
charge, is not fully clear; quite possibly he did not know himself. But
it could well be that he will do more for peace as a martyr and symbol
than he ever would have as a living leader.