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Is Ariel Sharon's Disengagement plan in trouble??


Until just a few days ago, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan was a cinch to pass the nonbinding referendum scheduled for May 2 for members of his Likud party. The plan, endorsed by US President Bush, would evacuate Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip, allowing better deployment of the IDF and less friction, and would also reduce pressure on Israel to adopt various peace plans (see commentary here). Now pollsters say passage is doubtful. Sharon remains confident, but the numbers say otherwise, causing a plunge in the Tel-Aviv stock exchange and panicky strategy meetings by Sharon and others to save what can be saved.

The disengagement plan is being killed by a combination of ingredients. Perhaps the biggest factor was simply the celebration of Israeli Independence day, always an opportunity for patriotic fervor, especially since homage to settlers was inserted by anti-disengagement politicians into the independence day ceremonies. Additionally, a demonstration of solidarity with Gaza settlers by some 60,000 to 100,000 supporters on Independence day lent momentum to the opposition movement. A well organized campaign by the opposition no doubt had a strong effect, and various "dirty tricks" and threats of Sharon against people who didn't vote for the plan may have backfired. Pundits say that many Likud voters, who may understand the need for the disengagement move, do not want to be the ones to "betray" the dream of Greater Israel.

Ambivalent Palestinian reaction to the plan has also generated opposition in Israel. Fears that the withdrawal would catalyze a takeover of the Gaza strip by Hamas extremists have made people think twice about evacuating Gaza, even if they are not supporters of Greater Israel at all costs. At the same time, extremist reactions of supposedly moderate Palestinians to President Bush's letter to Ariel Sharon have given Likud voters the feeling that peace is impossible in any case and therefore concessions of any kinds are pointless. Palestinian negotiator Saeeb Erekat misrepresented the Bush statement as giving away "vast tracts" of Palestinian land. Self-styled moderate Daoud Kuttab wrote in Jordan Times:

Political leaders and commentators alike attacked the US president for ... his call on Palestinians to give up their inalienable right to return to their homes and lands.

Of course, the "inalienable" right that "moderate" Palestinian Daoud Kuttab insists upon would flood Israel with a Palestinian majority consisting of descendants of refugees and those who have married in to the Palestinian people. Everyone recognizes that Israel would never allow this to happen in any negotiated settlement, because the result would mean the end of the Jewish national home and probable genocide. Remember that Kuttab is a moderate Palestinian. Really he is! He has done good work for peace and he has spoken out for nonviolence. If that is the moderate stance, many Israelis may be wondering if there is any point to making any concessions at all, since peace would be impossible in any case.

The right of return, and all the settlements that Bush alluded to, were ceded by Palestinian negotiators the Geneva accords, as well as in the agreements and announcements of President Clinton. The disengagement would essentially give Palestinians something for nothing, but the suspicion arises that one proferred oncession has inspired the thirst for more. Of course, the disengagement is meant to thwart "moderate" genocidal "plans" such as those of Kuttab, but for some, it may be very difficult to make the heart that has been hurt in this way follow the dictates of the mind. Sharon could not show any Palestinians saying that the withdrawal is a good basis for peace on reasonable terms. Even worse perhaps, the UN is insisting that it must have a role in the administration of Gaza. Israelis do not trust the UN.

The future of the disengagement plan is not clear if Likud voters turn it down, but it is unlikely that Sharon would go forward with the plan. Sharon has not threatened to resign as yet if the referendum fails. If Sharon resigns, Deputy PM Ehud Ohlmert, who also favors disengagement, would become caretake PM in his place for up to 100 days. Under the current law, elections would be held only if no other member of the Knesseth could form a government.

Sharon has said that a negative vote would create a dangerous precedent of a party voting against its leader. If so, why did he call for the vote, rather than initiating a country-wide referendum or submiting the issue to the Knesset, which represents all of Israel?

Ami Isseroff

3 Retreat Polls - Full Details of Maagar Mochot Poll - All Show Retreat Defeated

Dr. Aaron Lerner Date: 29 April 2004

Poll results on support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's retreat plan in
surveys carried out last night of Likud members:

Dahaf - Yediot Ahronot: For 39% Against 47%
Teleseker- Maariv: For 42% Against 45%
Maagar Mochot-Israel Radio: For 43% Against 47%

The following is IMRA's translation of results from two telephone polls
carried out by "Brain Base" ["Maagar Mochot"]
under the direction of Prof. Y. Katz for Israel Radio's "Another Matter"
program on 28 April with the results of their 21 April 2004 also presented
for purposes of comparison

Part 1 - Representative sample of 538 adult Israelis (including Israeli

If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is not confirmed in the
referendum of Likud members, should he:
Resign 34% Continue as prime minister 58% Other 8%

If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is not confirmed in the
referendum of Likud members and the prime minister resigns should he:
Leave politics 39% Go to new elections 22% Form new government 26% Other 13%

If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is confirmed in the referendum
of Likud members, should he implement it immediately?
No 39% Yes 53% Other 8%

Part 2 - Representative sample of 474 registered Likud members

Do you support or oppose the disengagement plan of Prime Minister Ariel
28 April Support 43% Oppose 47% Other 10%
21 April Support 51% Oppose 39% Other 10%

Do you plan to go and vote in the referendum on the disengagement plan?
28 April Yes 63% No 11% Other 26%
21 April Yes 68% No 16% Other 16%

Of those respondents who plan to vote:
28 April Support plan 43% Oppose 51% Other 6%
21 April Support plan 54% Oppose 41% Other 5%


Questions to members of specific parties:

NRP voters:
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is confirmed in the referendum
of Likud members, should the NRP stay in the government or leave?
Stay 32% Leave 63% Other 5%

National Union voters:
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is confirmed in the referendum
of Likud members, should the National Union stay in the government or leave?
Stay 45% Leave 48% Other 7%

Shinui voters:
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is not confirmed in the
referendum of Likud members, should Shinui stay in the government or leave?
Stay 77% Leave 20% Other 3%

Labor voters:
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is confirmed in the referendum
of Likud members, should Labor join the government or remain in the
Join 45% Remain in opposition 41% Other 14%

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis
Website: www.imra.org.il

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Last Update: 29/04/2004 11:22

PM convenes team as polls show plan won't pass Likud vote
By Aluf Benn and Mazal Mualem, Haaretz Correspondents and Haaretz Service

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was due to convene his disengagement plan campaign staff for an urgent
consultation after polls released on Thursday showed a majority of Likud voters oppose the propsal.

Some 193,000 Likud members will go to the polls on Sunday to vote on the plan. A poll by the daily
Yedioth Ahronoth showed that 47 percent of Likud members oppose the plan, while 39 percent are in
favor with 14 percent still undecided. The gap was somewhat narrower in a poll by the Maariv daily,
which found 45 percent of party members oppose the plan while 42 percent supported it, with the rest

Close aides told Army Radio on Thursday that Sharon will not, at this time, threaten to resign if
the plan is not approved by the Likud referendum

Sharon nonetheless sounded confident in radio interviews broadcast on Thursday morning that his
disengagement plan will win the support of party members in Sunday's referendum.

He claimed in the interviews, recorded on Wednesday, that he is not worried about the results of the
poll. "I will win, I do not even want to think about the alternative. If I do not win, this will be
the biggest victory for [PA Chairman Yasser] Arafat and Hamas," he said.

"I will win, I am certain that the extreme-right will not succeed this time in toppling a Likud
government. Disengagement is good and important for Israel," he said.

He said he was sure that the Likud voters will realize that they have a enormous responsibility as
members of the largest party in Israel, and will approve the plan.

Sharon warned that if the plan is defeated, "it will worsen our relations with the U.S. and bring
about the fall of the Likud - that is the extreme right's plan. It is inconceivable that an outside
group should lead the Likud."

Sharon insisted that the Gaza Strip cannot be part of Israel in the future and reiterated that he is
evacuating Gaza.

With three days to go until Sunday's referendum among Likud voters on his disengagement plan, Sharon
for the first time publicly declared the poll a vote of confidence in his leadership.

Sharon declared: "Anyone who believes in me must vote for the disengagement. You can't play around
on this matter ... You can't be for me but against the plan I am promoting."

While Sharon's associates have been declaring the referendum a vote of confidence in Sharon for
days, this is the first time Sharon has said so himself - though he has still not threatened to
resign if the plan fails to pass.

He said the Palestinians are in "hysteria" and that that they see the pullout as the deepest blow to
them since Israeli independence.

"I don't want to think what will happen to economy, the stock markets [if the plan is defeated]," he
said. Likud members must decide whether they are in favor of refugees coming into Israel or not, and
Israel being forced back to the 1949 borders, he went on to say.

Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio on Thursday that Sharon must accept the results of
the Likud poll, but does not have to resign if the proposal fails.

Yahad whip, MK Zehava Gal-On, however told the station that if the plan fails at the Likud poll,
Sharon must call a general election. She said that failure at the ballot will prove that even people
from Sharon's party do not buy his plan and he must thus go to the general public.

Sharon received a boost from Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid on Wednesday, who sent him a letter
demanding that he bring the plan to the cabinet and Knesset for approval even if it fails to pass
the referendum.

"I must remind you that the opinions of Likud voters do not bind Shinui's representatives, and they
certainly do not bind the Israeli government ... The vote by Likud members has no legal authority;
it is merely an expression of opinion," Lapid wrote.

The letter was coordinated with Sharon's staff.

Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz called on Shinui on Thursday to declare that they will quit the coalition
government if the pullout plan fails in the Likud poll.

Meanwhile, Minister Uzi Landau, who is spearheading the opposition within the Likud, on Wednesday
protested Sharon's description of himself and his colleagues as extremists. It is completely
illegitimate, he said, to brand Likud members as extremists merely for holding the same views that
Sharon himself advocated a mere six months ago.

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Replies: 1 Comment

The idea of linking the Engagement Plan with a Likud only referendum is totally absurd. The Disengagement Plan received the approval of the Sharon Cabinet. Why should it be put to the Likud Party vote for approval? After all most of the Likud Party members are not Knesset members anyway and as such have no more right to make national decisions than anybody else outside the Knesset.If the government feels that it needs the approval of the Israeli electorate by holding a national referendum then that would make more sense.

The chances of the Likud Party approving the Sharon Disengagement Plan is in grave doubt, and with it, possible negotiations in the moribund Peace Process. However putting such a serious decision as the Disengagement Plan to Likud Party members can create a dangerous precedent. This would turn the Government into a manipulative tool of the Likud Party and would be a threat to the rule of law and democracy. If the Israeli electorate had given the Likud Party the mandate to run the country and make national decisions so be it.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 04/30/2004 02:29 PM CST

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