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PM Sharon: ‘I’ll Present Disengagement Plan To the Knesset on October 25th’. Evacuation Will Be Linked To Situation On the Ground’

Labor’s Peres: ‘We’ll Support Sharon Only If He Sincere On Disengagement As Part Of Roadmap Process’

Analyst David Essing: ‘Likud Rebels Warn Privately They’ll Try To Topple Sharon If He Carries Out Withdrawal’

P.M. Sharon

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has opened the Knesset’s winter session by announcing that he will present his disengagement plan to the House in another two weeks. Sharon was confident the Knesset will approve the controversial plan, which calls for the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and 4 settlements on the West Bank. Opposition leader Shimon Peres declared that his Labor party will support Sharon only if the Prime Minister proves he is sincere about really implementing the withdrawal. Peres sharply criticized the recent interview by Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s top aide, who said the disengagement plan was really designed to freeze the peace process with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Likud rebels warn they will vote against the withdrawal. Analyst David Essing says some rebels warn if they cannot dissuade Sharon, they will topple him.

Tension was running high on the opening day of the new winter session. At stake are crucial Knesset votes on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s controversial plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and 4 isolated settlements in Samaria.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Prime Minister Sharon is not backing down… he will present his withdrawal plan to the House for a vote on October 25th. Sharon is confident that it will be passed, despite the fierce opposition in his own Likud party. It would then be possible to implement the withdrawal by the end of next year. And here, the PM added that this would be in close contact with developments on the ground. He went on to say that Israel must retain the capability to continually monitor the security and political situation; this with the goal of, “Suiting our actions to the evolving situation and primarily to defend ourselves and better cope with terror.” This was a new formulation by Sharon - until now it has declared that no Jew will stay in Gaza by the end of next year.

Knesset Opening

The October vote would be followed in the first week of November by the bill for financially compensating the settlers. It would detail all the arrangements for the settlers who would be forced to evacuate their homes and communities. Sharon said he fully understood the pain of the settlers, who had built their homes in the Gaza Strip, and he had instructed they be treated in the most humane and generous way possible.

Israel was sticking to the ‘road-map’ which, he said, was the sole plan for a lasting agreement. It obligated the Palestinians to eliminate their terrorism and initiate wide governmental reforms, before starting to negotiate. However, he charged the Palestinians had done nothing to fulfill their commitments; on the contrary, they had actually stepped up the terrorism and backed off the reforms. Therefore, Sharon declared the Palestinians alone bore full ‘guilt’ for the political stalemate and their failure to realize their national aspirations.

The Prime Minister was obviously aware of the negative impact made by his top aide Dov Weisglass, who has said Sharon’s disengagement plan was designed to freeze the peace process. Sharon said Israel wanted to renew negotiations on a roadmap solution, but as long as the Palestinians did not keep their part of the deal, there could be no negotiations.

And because there was no true peace partner, Israel was forced to initiate steps to buttress her international position, improve security for her citizens, to combat terrorism and improve the humanitarian condition of the civilian population.

Opposition Leader Peres

Although Sharon did not mention the Weisglass interview, opposition leader Shimon Peres certainly did. In a spirited speech, Peres hauled Sharon over the coals for the views expressed by Weisglass. However, earlier in the Labor party caucus, Peres disclosed that Sharon had telephoned him, pledging that he was committed to the ‘road-map’ and implementing the withdrawal. In light of this, Peres talked of supporting Sharon for the disengagement plan if it were part of an overall peace process. Contrary to the Prime Minister, Peres also felt that Palestinian leaders such as Abu Mazen and Abu Ala could be peace partners. But other Labor MKs demand the party vote against Sharon and try and topple him.

Meanwhile, opponents in Sharon’s own Likud party are vowing to vote against the withdrawal. They say it will be giving in to terrorism and weakening Israel’s security. Led by Cabinet Minister Uzi Landau, they are campaigning for a national referendum on the issue. However, privately they warn they will try and oust their own party leader if he tries to carry out the withdrawal. A majority of the Likud’s 40 MKs initially opposed the withdrawal after a party referendum also rejected it. Although that number may have shrunk, it is still significant. So, Sharon has far greater support in Labor for the withdrawal. And the burning question in both parties is ‘To topple or not topple Sharon!’

As for the disengagement plan, the Prime Minister should be able to push it through the House, with Labor’s support. But the question is will he still have his own party behind him? His main Likud rival, Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu opposes the pull out; he and the rebels are still trying to persuade the Prime Minister to decide the withdrawal issue in a national referendum; so far, Sharon is refusing.

David Essing

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