The old soldier’s eyes are open. Sometimes he’s propped up in front of a TV, where images of nature and animals, especially cows, flicker across the screen. His family tells him the day’s news, the goings on at his beloved farm. They read to him, alternating between two books at a time, just as he used to do for himself. They play classical music. When his white hair grows long, they trim it. And once in a while, when someone tells him to move a toe, he does.

Whether Ariel Sharon takes in any of this activity, no one knows for sure. Because Israel’s once-robust prime minister and legendary battlefield hero—the decorated warrior, the controversial hawk and finally, beginning in 2001, the centrist prime minister who transformed the political landscape—has been in a coma for nearly four years, felled by a massive stroke. While not brain-dead, the 81-year-old exists in a persistent vegetative state. He generally breathes on his own, but must be fed by a tube. He cannot speak, walk, or think. Probably…

Too healthy to die, too injured to rule; he lives in limbo, just like the Israeli peace process. The irony is unavoidable.