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More Gaza Settlements Evacuated As Israeli Cabinet Approves Withdrawal From Four West Bank Settlements

PM Sharon : 'Any Likud Cabinet Ministers Opposed To Disengagement Can Quit'

Meretz-Yachad Leader Beilin: 'We Have Fifty-one MKs Lined Up To Topple Sharon After Current Withdrawal'

MK Lapid - PM Sharon (Archive)

A total of five more settlements in the Gaza Strip were evacuated by Israeli soldiers and police today without the violence that accompanied some of last week's withdrawals. In Jerusalem, the cabinet approved the pullout from four settlements in the northern Samaria area of the West Bank. At the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon indicated that he is moving full steam ahead and clashed with four of his Likud ministers who oppose his disengagement plan. In another development, the far left is about to pull out its support for Sharon after the withdrawal is completed.

Ariel Sharon is going for broke, that's the message from the Prime Minister as he enters the last stage of his Gaza evacuation. Sharon was in a fiesty mood as he lashed out at both the settler leaders and the 'barbaric' demonstrators who battled Israeli soldiers and policemen last week. The Prime Minister also hauled some of his own Likud ministers over the coals for not publicly defending the evacuation. He quipped: 'Maybe they're waiting to see the latest opinion polls'. Health minister Danny Naveh interjected: 'Are you saying they should resign? Sharon retorted: 'Anyone who wants to quit is free to do so!' In any case, four Likud ministers again voted against the last stage to evacuate four settlements on the West Bank.

Opposition leader Tommy Lapid has advised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to resign now at the pinnacle of his political power. In an Maariv newspaper article entitled 'Advice from a Friend', Lapid says Sharon has survived the tornado that swept through Gaza but he is isolated politically in his own Likud party, isolated physically for fear of assassination, personally isolated because his son Omri Sharon is about to be indicted for illegal campaign funds and isolated as a statesman who implemented an historic policy that can only be judged by the passage of time.In the cabinet today, Sharon left no doubt; he is determined to carry on. But now the disengagement is going through, the left wing opposition is pulling out its support. Yahad-Meretz leader Yossin Beilin says he has already mustered 51 MKs in the 120 member Knesset who are ready to topple the Sharon government. Beilin says all that's required is for 10 of the Likud 'rebels' to come aboard a no confidence vote to oust the government. He goes on to say Sharon could not have implemented the withdrawal without the votes of the left wing. But Beilin now thinks Sharon will dig in his heels when it comes to further withdrawals on the West Bank. Moreover, Meretz charges that the Likud's economic policy punishes the poor and pampers the rich. Likud MK Uzi Landau, who has lead the anti-disengagement movement, says he favors ousting Sharon. In the running for next Likud party leader, Landau declares: 'Sharon has trampled on the Likud Party by carrying out the retreat and the country needs a new prime minister'. Although former Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu leads Sharon by a wide margin in the Likud, another poll shows the general public still favors Sharon for prime minister. Only when the dust settles from the current turmoil will the picture become clearer. In addition, Sharon is still keeping his cards close to his vest about how he views future developments. He has declared that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas must first dismantle Hamas and the other terror organizations before the start of Roadmap negotiations. Abbas says he will not disarm the terrorists creating a deadlock. Eager to get the Roadmap underway, the U.S. can be counted on to come up with a compromise to prod Sharon and Abbas to the negotiating table.

The Israeli leader has gone out on a limb by carrying out this unilateral withdrawal. In an interview with IBA news, Beilin said the Gaza pullout had proved that Israel will be able to carry out future withdrawals on the West Bank. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talks of the importance of Israel now withdrawing elsewhere to keep up the momentum. But the U.S. may be making a big blunder if it thinks the far left in Israel now represents public opinion. The key reason most Israelis backed the evacuation is probably due to their confidence in Ariel Sharon. But only 52% of Israelis favored the withdrawal a week before the withdrawal because of the terrorist threat. On the contrary, a majority of Israelis today feel the Gaza withdrawal is a major concession that must be reciprocated by the Palestinians. After the IDF also withdraws soon from the Gaza Strip, throngs of jubilant Palestinians will be viewed on TV celebrating in the settlements waving flags and chanting that Israelis buckle in to terrorism. Mahmoud Abbas has already talked on marching on to Jerusalem, charging that it is being Judaized by the Jews. These are also factors that Washington should be taking into account. Sharon has indicated he is counting on U.S. President George Bush to press Abbas to comply with the roadmap and start dismantling the terrorists. After the disengagment , the Israeli public will also want to see some Palestinian quid pro quo on the ground. The praise from abroad now being heaped on Sharon will not be enough, even if there is talk about the Prime Minister receiving the Noble Peace Prize and being lauded at the upcoming session of the U.N. General Assembly no less. Israelis remember well how Noble Prizes to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat exploded in a wave bloodshed and suicide bombings.


David Essing

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