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CLOSING THE DEAL

Barring Unforeseen Circumstances, Sharon To Present Disengagement Coalition On Monday

The Knesset (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The decision by United Torah Judaism to join Prime Minister Sharon’s new coalition is a big step on the way for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. On January 3rd, IsraCast reported that a deal was in the making – UTJ proposed that it enter the coalition on condition it be enabled to abstain on disengagement votes in the Knesset; Sharon apparently agreed.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Prime Minister Sharon appears to have done it. After months of political finagling, he has cobbled together the mechanism for implementing his highly controversial withdrawal plan. By embarking on the unilateral pullout, the PM lost his coalition government, and the governmental means for carrying it out. Now, if he can present a new cabinet for Knesset approval and it looks as if he can, he will be back in the driver's seat with his foot hard down on the accelerator.

Rabbi Elyashiev

Ironically, Sharon has had to turn to the ultra-orthodox UTJ party, which does not take a stand on such 'Zionist' issues as settlements and withdrawals. UTJ is to receive 290 million shekels, that's about 66 million $ for its education institutions which will also remain outside of the Dovrat Reform. To try and 'sweeten the bitter pill', UTJ decided to put Sharon on 3 months 'probation' to guarantee he keeps his promises. Although this may be UTJ retribution for Sharon's opting for the secular Shinui party in his first coalition, it is irrelevant when it comes to the disengagement. UTJ is not joining the cabinet, so it will not take participate in the upcoming cabinet vote for actually withdrawal. This final government green light must be taken within several weeks in order to meet the legal requirement of six months before next summer's evacuation. Second, there is a massive Knesset majority for disengagement, even if the 5 UTJ MKs abstain. So, the PM has again outflanked his own Likud 'Rebel-Loyalists' who oppose the withdrawal.

UTJ is being 'hauled over the coals' by the National Religious Party for selling out on 'Eretz Yisrael' to advance its own narrow interests. In reply, UTJ's spiritual mentor Rabbi Elyashiev retorted that it was the NRP, which sat at the cabinet table with the militant secular Shinui party.

Meanwhile, Sharon can tell his own Likud central committee that the new coalition is not just with left-wing Labor. Moreover, Sharon officials have been putting out feelers to Shas, the ultra-orthodox Sepharadi party, which, for the present, has opted to stay out of the coalition. Will Shas eventually join the new coalition? Although UTJ does not have to worry about losing voters over the withdrawal, Shas does. Whether Shas also enters the coalition may depend on how the winds of disengagement blow in the weeks ahead, or put poetically: 'O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?'

David Essing

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