If he survives, it seems unlikely Sharon would be able to return to work anytime soon – creating a void in Israeli politics and in efforts for peace with the Palestinians.For now, Sharon has been replaced by his deputy, Ehud Olmert – a decision backed by world leaders. A number of prominent figures are emerging to take over at the head of Sharon’s new centrist party Kadima including close ally Justice minister Tzipi Livni. Livni has said the party will move ahead with Sharon’s vision even if he doesn’t return to politics. Israel is gearing up for a general election in March which the prime minister had been widely expected to win. He has been campaiging on pledges to give up some occupied land in the West Bank but to keep hold of major settlement blocs there. Political analyst Dr Dan Shiftan says: “There is no doubt about the ability of the Israeli political system and there is no doubt that the middle ground is what the majority of Israelis support and this will probably persist.” But many fear the absence of Sharon will only further cloud hopes for peace in the Middle East, which is gearing up for Palestinian elections at the end of the month threatened by a recent upsurge of violence in Gaza.