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PM Sharon: ‘No National Referendum On Disengagement; Those Who Warn Of Civil War Are Trying to Block Gaza Evacuation’

Knesset Speaker Rivlin: ‘There Is A Real Danger of Civil War, If No Referendum’

Foreign Minister Shalom: ‘I Will Lead All-Out Campaign For Referendum’

FM Shalom - PM Sharon

Twenty four hours after the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, a new drive by Likud members for a national referendum on the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. Two key officials, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin have come out loud and clear in favor of the referendum. However, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has retorted that there will be no referendum.

The campaign to let the people of Israel to decide on Prime Minister Sharon’s withdrawal has gained new momentum. But Sharon says he’s not budging and there will be no national referendum.

First Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom dropped a political bombshell by calling for the referendum. Just hours after Sharon returned from the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, the Foreign Minister went on TV saying he would now lead a campaign in the cabinet, the Knesset and within the ruling Likud party for the referendum. Shalom, who opposes the withdrawal, says he’s losing sleep over it. Some observers say the timing of his statement may be linked to the fact that Sharon did not take Shalom to the summit. The Foreign Minister, who set up the summit in previous meetings with Egyprt’s President Mubarak, apparently felt snubbed by Sharon. It is hard to imagine that Shalom would have called for the referendum after returning from Sharm.

Bombshell #2 - Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin also of Sharon’s Likud party calls a news conference to warn that Israel could face a civil war threatening her very existence unless the people are asked to vote on the withdrawal. Several left wing MKs immediately called on Rivlin to resign, charging he has violated the impartiality of his position. Prime Minister Sharon turned down flat the latest referendum demands. Sharon said: ‘Forget it, it’s not going to happen!’ The evacuation would be carried out on schedule next summer. The PM lambasted those who warned of a civil war over the withdrawal. Sharon charged they were scaremongers who were simply trying to block the disengagement, which was in the national interest.

What are the chances that the Likud ‘rebels’, fired up by the Foreign minister and the Knesset Speaker, may be able to force Sharon to accept a referendum? Very slim, Sharon can count on more than half of his Knesset Likud caucus as well as left-wing Labor and Yachad, Shinui, the ultra-orthodox Shas and Arab Mks all will vote against the referendum.

As one Sharon source puts it: ‘The referendum lobby is going nowhere, they’re just making noise by giving full gas while in neutral!’

David Essing

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