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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:
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?
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
Dahaf - Yediot Ahronot: For 39% Against 47%
The following is IMRA's translation of results from two telephone polls
Part 1 - Representative sample of 538 adult Israelis (including Israeli
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is not confirmed in the
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is not confirmed in the
If Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan is confirmed in the referendum
Part 2 - Representative sample of 474 registered Likud members
Do you support or oppose the disengagement plan of Prime Minister Ariel
Do you plan to go and vote in the referendum on the disengagement plan?
Of those respondents who plan to vote:
Questions to members of specific parties:
National Union voters:
* Balanced Middle East News *
Last Update: 29/04/2004 11:22
PM convenes team as polls show plan won't pass Likud vote
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was due to convene his disengagement plan campaign staff for an urgent
Some 193,000 Likud members will go to the polls on Sunday to vote on the plan. A poll by the daily
Close aides told Army Radio on Thursday that Sharon will not, at this time, threaten to resign if
Sharon nonetheless sounded confident in radio interviews broadcast on Thursday morning that his
He claimed in the interviews, recorded on Wednesday, that he is not worried about the results of the
"I will win, I am certain that the extreme-right will not succeed this time in toppling a Likud
He said he was sure that the Likud voters will realize that they have a enormous responsibility as
Sharon warned that if the plan is defeated, "it will worsen our relations with the U.S. and bring
Sharon insisted that the Gaza Strip cannot be part of Israel in the future and reiterated that he is
With three days to go until Sunday's referendum among Likud voters on his disengagement plan, Sharon
Sharon declared: "Anyone who believes in me must vote for the disengagement. You can't play around
While Sharon's associates have been declaring the referendum a vote of confidence in Sharon for
He said the Palestinians are in "hysteria" and that that they see the pullout as the deepest blow to
"I don't want to think what will happen to economy, the stock markets [if the plan is defeated]," he
Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio on Thursday that Sharon must accept the results of
Yahad whip, MK Zehava Gal-On, however told the station that if the plan fails at the Likud poll,
Sharon received a boost from Shinui Chairman Yosef Lapid on Wednesday, who sent him a letter
"I must remind you that the opinions of Likud voters do not bind Shinui's representatives, and they
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
Meanwhile, Minister Uzi Landau, who is spearheading the opposition within the Likud, on Wednesday
* Balanced Middle East News *
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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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