Yes, Ariel Sharon is dead. Earlier today, I heard from an impeccable source who has extremely good contacts and they say that Sharon is dead. They are using machines to keep his heart beating and lungs breathing and will continue to do so until Sunday when they "try to wake him up," already knowing that he won't.
Supposedly, he is being kept "alive" in order to prepare for his funeral and to coordinate security for the heads of state, especially George Bush, who will be visiting.
There are hundreds of "analysis" stories out there about what Sharon's death means to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Middle East in general. And, perhaps not so incredibly, most of them are just plain wrong - or filled with words that don't help anyone understand anything any better.
My post-Sharon prediction is that basically nothing will change, or things will get slightly worse.
Sharon's new political party will continue - even though it was built around him - if for no other reason than all the Labor and Likud defectors would look like fools going back to their old parties. With Olmert leading and Peres in the wings, they will do reasonably well in the upcoming elections and form a coalition government with Peretz and Labor. And nothing will change. Maybe a return to the nicer, friendlier "enlightened occupation" nonsense.
Things could get worse if Netanyahu picks up many of the votes that would have gone to Sharon and joins the government instead of being in the opposition. I don't believe that will happen. But even if it does, the only thing that will change is Palestinians will get killed more quickly and the settlements will grow faster.
So long as the US continues to fund Israel and it's military occupation and Israel continues to make unrealistic demands of the Palestinians that no leader could agree to, while at the same time murdering them and stealing their land, nothing will change. It doesn't matter in the least who is in office in Israel or the "Palestinian Authority."
It's up to all of us to change that.