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Raz: Small nation, huge influence

CNN Jerusalem correspondent Guy Raz


Would the peace process continue without Ariel Sharon?
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On the Scene
Ariel Sharon

JERUSALEM, Israel (CNN) -- CNN Jerusalem correspondent Guy Raz is among the world's media, waiting for news of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition following a major stroke and considering the global impact of Israel's political upheaval.

RAZ: The entrance to the west wing of the Hadassah Medical Center is littered with the cigarette butts of the international media. They are gathered here in Jerusalem, holding vigil outside this hospital, waiting, pacing, smoking, drinking coffee ... anything to cope with the anxiety.

This is a big story.

It's evident from the multitude of languages spewing out to the line of cameras pointed at the hospital entrance.

But what makes it a big story? Why is the world concerned about the condition of a man who, in simple numbers, leads a country of 6.2 million people?

If French President Jacques Chirac or German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suddenly fell seriously ill, would the global media cover the story hour by hour?

Probably not.

But this ancient land is the holiest piece of real estate in the world for both Jews and Christians, and revered by Muslims. It is also central to Islamic identity as the site of brutal conflicts, first with Christian Crusaders and then Western powers.

Today it is a piece of land that many believe eventually will be divided between two nations -- Jewish and Palestinian Arab.

As the 21st century moves into its sixth year, many people have come to accept the geopolitical reality that neither nation can control the entire territory. Political progress taught Ariel Sharon that lesson.

It's why his condition matters. (Sharon rushed to hospital) Because at the heart of this story is the condition of the world. Beyond that is the U.S.-backed effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. Consecutive U.S. administrations have realized that resolving this conflict is key to resolving a major diplomatic headache.

Ariel Sharon -- onetime military hero and champion of Jewish settlements in occupied land -- did not become a peacenik. But he did become a pragmatist. He came to believe that the only rational and realistic solution to this conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians was to divide the land. And for a man who spent much of his public life denying this, his political turnabout was all the more remarkable.

In simple terms, Sharon really was the only one -- the only man capable of convincing his population that the time had come to face reality.

But even in his own country, Sharon had his critics: those on the left who could never forgive his military campaign in Lebanon; those on the right who regard him as a turncoat for abandoning Jewish settlements in occupied Gaza.

We do not know if Sharon's political successors will have the force of personality to push through the necessary measures to divide this piece of land.

But the international community is invested in this conflict. And they started to like Ariel Sharon. Now, they wonder, who will come next?

In the meantime, outside Hadassah hospital, those who disseminate the information to their respective audiences around the world wait, some smoke, many drink coffee, but all are anxious for more news.

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