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PM Sharon Moves To Build A Disengagement Coalition

Analyst David Essing: ‘Sharon Now At Mercy Of Two Conflicting Coalitions’

Knesset Vote

Likud ‘rebels’, opposed to Prime Minister Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements, have handed Sharon an embarrassing defeat in the Knesset. They abstained when the House took a vote on the Prime Minister’s policy statement on the disengagement which resulted in a 53-44 defeat. However, the rebels then voted with Sharon against a no- confidence vote by Labor which was defeated 60-52.Opening day of the winter Knesset session found the Prime Minister pitted against opponents in his Likud party over the withdrawal issue.

Who blinks first? Prime minister Ariel Sharon bent on implementing the withdrawal or the fifteen or so Likud rebels who oppose it? They squared off at the opening of the new winter session of the Knesset.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

The Likud ‘rebels’ gave Sharon a slap on the wrist - they warned him by abstaining in the Knesset vote on his policy statement. The result was a symbolic Sharon defeat. Minutes later, the very same rebels voted for the Prime Minister in a no-confidence motion presented by the opposition Labor party, which actually supports Sharon’s withdrawal plan. Complicated? And how, even for Israeli politics! In other words, Sharon is now at the mercy of two coalitions; an informal one which supports his withdrawal and his official coalition, some of whom oppose the evacuation. To help clarify, this is the coalition algebra facing the Prime Minister as he moves ahead on his evacuation plan which will be voted on by the Knesset on October 25th.

1. For Sharon’s Pullout = Likud - Likud rebels + Labor

2. For Sharon Without Pullout = Likud + Likud rebels - Labor

Labor says it will support Sharon in implementing the withdrawal but voted against him yesterday, because his address also included economic policy which they abhor. On October 25th, Labor MKs say they will likely vote for the evacuation whereas the Likud rebels warn they will vote against.

However, aware of his popularity in the opinion polls, the Likud rebels say they do not want to topple Sharon. The latest poll shows Sharon with 26% compared to 16% for Likud rival Bibi Netanyahu and 15% for Labor’s Shimon Peres.

Rabi Ovadia - Mofaz

After what Sharon’s son MK Omri, calls an ‘unpleasant’ defeat, the PM sent Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to see Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual mentor of the Shas opposition party. Mofaz was apparently trying to persuade the Rabbi to drop his rejection to the withdrawal and join the coalition. It would be a package deal; one problem though - Sharon’s coalition partner secular Shinui will not serve in the same cabinet with ultra-orthodox Shas.

The other way out of the current conundrum, might be a national referendum on the evacuation issue. In the past, Sharon turned thumbs down and he did again today when Shinui leader Tommy Lapid revived it. But will the Prime Minister have any other choice if he’s facing Likud rebels who appear to be as dug in as he is?

Even Labor’s support is conditional. Knesset whip Dalia Itzak says Labor’s safety net for Sharon’s evacuation is ‘riddled’ with holes, it’s good solely for the withdrawal and the PM must deliver.

Just what is Sharon thinking, the day after? One of his closest allies, Cabinet Minister Ehud Olmert says Sharon is convinced the evacuation is in Israel’s national interest; he’ll even consider an early election if need be. And Olmert argues that the opposition of the Likud institutions does not reflect the true position of most Likudniks. Again, Olmert could turn to the latest poll which shows that 65% of Israelis support the Gaza pullout whereas only 25% oppose it. What can be said, with any certainty at this point, is that even for Israel’s cock-eyed political system, for a Prime minister to wind up at the mercy of two conflicting coalitions must be something of a first.

David Essing

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