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Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan Defeated in Likud Poll: Now What?

05/03/2004

Israeli PM Ariel Sharon's decision to hold a referendum in the Likud party on his disengagement plan was a disastrous mistake that has backfired on Sharon and his supporters, as well as on US President Bush who backed the plan. Sharon and his supporters are now busy trying to salvage what may be salvaged from the debacle. From their statements, it is clear that they had no clear "plan B" in case the referendum failed, but that they intend to continue to promote the plan.

The referendum seemed predestined to fail because the Likud is the stronghold of the Greater Israel ideology. It put the fate of the Gaza settlements in the hands of about 4% of the Israeli electorate - all people opposed to giving up settlements on principle. The people voting in the referendum were all committed and registered Likud members. They joined the Likud because they believe in Greater Israel. While many of them may realize that Sharon is right, and that there is no future for the Gaza settlements, that is not the same as saying they are willing to take responsibility for removing the settlements.

The settlers and their supporters organized a barrage of anti-disengagement propaganda and persuasion, and on the day of the polling sent activists to stand outside polling places and greet voters with candy and anti-disengagement propaganda. The activities were mostly organized by non-Likud leaders, with a core of insider support from Uzi Landau and David Levy.

Sharon's preparation and organization for the referendum consisted of approximately nothing at all, except some incoherent statements to the effect that voting against the proposal was wrong, because it would create a precedent of party members not supporting the leadership. If so, why did he hold the referendum? Sharon had persuaded several Likud leaders to change their minds and support the plan in public, but the support was not translated into organizational support of rank and file members.

The Palestinians helped the anti-disengagement forces materially. They expressed disdain for the plan and repeatedly claimed they would not give up on Right of Return. By this time, few Israelis have any illusion that withdrawal from Gaza would produce a material change for the better in the Palestinian position vis-a-vis Israel, or any let-up in terror attampts. It would just make Israel less vulnerable.

On the day of the referendum, terrorists killed a mother and her children, Israeli settlers in Gush Khatif, as they were on their way to participate in anti-disengagement activities. On reflection, the murders might be considered a clear indication of the pointlessness of Israeli settlement in Gaza, and the error of subjecting small children to the dangers of this life. However, the referendum was not decided in people's heads, but rather in their hearts. PNA Chairman Arafat later made sure that Israelis would get the message by refusing to condemn the murders and claiming that the lady and her children, the Hatuel family, were mukharibun - terrorists. That presumably includes Mrs. Hatuel's unborn child.

The Palestinian stand on the disengagement plan has never been clear. Palestinian negotiator Saeeb Erekat, who earlier complained that President Bush had "put him out of a job" by making supposed concessions to Sharon, now complained that a small number of Likud voters could not decide the future of the Palestinians. Erekat told Reuters:


"It's a frustrating day for us to see these Likud members taking themselves seriously to determine our fate. They have no right to overrule signed agreements," Erekat told Reuters.


No country has signed any agreement commiting Israel to withdraw from the Gaza strip, so it is not at all clear what Erekat might have meant.

Now the PA is urging Israel to return to the negotiating table. Palestinian PM Ahmed Qurei told Reuters:


"I hope this will be an incentive to go back to the right path so we can find a just and permanent solution that will ensure the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Nobody can decide on behalf of the Palestinians. No regional or international party has the right or can unilaterally decide on final status issues and on our legitimate rights."

As Qurei knows, negotiations are not likely to take place until the Palestinians implement their roadmap obligations to reform security and control terror attacks and terror groups. The disengagement plan is supported by the US and by the Israeli public only because Qurei himself has shown no inclination whatever to implement the roadmap.

With execrable timing, the Quartet is meeting tomorrow (May 4) to consider the effect of the disengagment plan on the roadmap. Since it is not clear what disengagement plan still exists or when it would be implemented, it isn't clear what they are going to discuss. The US has already stated that it still sees the disengagement plan in a positive light and that the Likud vote has not changed the US position. However, if other members of the Quartet other object strongly to the unilateral move, it could weaken Sharon's bid to keep the plan alive.

Sharon now has a number of bad choices. Both he and Deputy PM Ehud Ohlmert have already indicated that they will "honor the results of the referendum" but that they will still continue with the disengagement plan. In fact, most Israelis understand that withdrwal from Gaza is inevitable, and have understood it for a long time. However, it has been impossible to find a coalition leadership that would have the courage to stop pouring money and lives into a hopeless enterprise that antagonizes the Palestinians and the world and brings Israel no benefit.

Very likely, Sharon will attempt to pass the plan in the government and Knesset despite the Likud vote. He may also call a national referendum on the issue. He avoided such a referendum previously because it would take too long to implement. Sharon may also tinker with the plan a bit, so he can claim it is not the one that was rejected by the Likud membership. He might propose not to evacuate the four settlements in the north of the West Bank that were part of the plan, or he might propose to leave some of the settlements in Gaza intact.

Sharon may also try to broaden the government to include the Labor party in order to allow passage of the disengagement plan. A unity government that includes the Labor party cannot be ruled out entirely, but it is unlikely to happen for a while. Labor would wait at least until (and if) Sharon is cleared of bribery allegations by Attorney General Mazuz, and Labor would not join the coalition unless it is certain that the disengagement plan is really going to be carried out. Thus far, Sharon has made many announcements about withdrawing from settlements and outposts, but in fact, there has been no withdrawal at all.

The defeat of the disengagement plan will impact on Likud internal politics and on Israeli national politics. Within the Likud, a move to the right can be expected. Extreme right wing activists such as Moshe Feiglin have called for Sharon to give up the post of Prime Minister, but this is unlikely. One analyst cited polls that show the Likud would lose as much as 20% of its support in the next elections to the Labor and Shinui parties, since many who voted for the Likud in the last elections favor the withdrawal from Gaza. Veteran Labor party politiician Uzi Baram predicted that Greater Israel lobbyists and extreme right wing elements who currently belong to small parties such as the NRP, National Union and Herut, would now seek to join the Likud and turn it into an extreme right-wing party that would have a greatly reduced support base in the Israeli electorate. The disengagement plan is basically identical to the proposal that was offered by Labor party PM candidate Amram Mitzna in the last elections. Mitzna was defeated because this proposal was characterized by Sharon and others as giving in to terrorism, but the logic of the situation has more force than the logic of rhetoric. Few Israelis want to die defending the Gaza settlers. Perhaps Sharon has at last provided the issue that will bring the Israeli left out of the wilderness and redress the lopsided balance of Israeli politics that was caused by the Palestinian violence and the implosion of both the Israel Labor party and Meretz.

The actions of Education Minister Limor Livnat and former PM Benjamin Nethanyahu may provide a key to the future of the Likud. Nethanyahu has ambitions to lead the Likud, but does not want to harm party unity. They are opponents of Sharon within the Likud, and initially opposed the disengagement plan, eventually lending it half-hearted support before the referendum, but without mobilizing their supporters in the Likud. Will they continue to support the plan in the name of unity with Sharon, or will they adopt a line of "the party has spoken?"

Despite Sharon's confusion, the fact is that for once, the Likud and the right have the wrong end of the issue. While right-wing Likud activists are busy gloating over Sharon's strategic error, they should consider that they have forced the Likud party to make a political error of historic proportions; because leaving Gaza is now supported by most Israelis, Likud members have handed the Labor party and the center Shinui party a perfect issue. The Pyrrhic victory of the "just say no" forces may breath life into the long moribund Israeli center-left, if the leaders of the once masterly Labor party can overcome their recent propensity to flub every political play.

Ami Isseroff



Last Update: 03/05/2004 11:15
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/422430.html

Olmert: Disengagement is 'unstoppable'

By Mazal Mualem, Gideon Alon and Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies

Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that despite the landslide defeat of the prime minister's disengagement plan in a Sunday referendum of Likud voters, the initiative was "unstoppable."

Olmert said the final results of the vote, 59.5 percent against versus 39.7 percent in favor, spoke for themselves. "But is that the end of the story? No. Is that the end of the process? No."

Stung by the magnitude of the loss in the Likud vote, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave no indication Monday over how he intended to proceed. In an initial response late Sunday, Sharon said in a statement that while he and the Israeli public were disappointed with the results, he would respect them. He also rejected suggestions that he might resign.

But Olmert, the principal proponent of Sharon's plan, went further, vowing a "supreme effort" to implement the plan in some form.

"Will we make a supreme effort to continue in the correct direction, because that direction is unstoppable? I have no doubt that we will, and that in the end there will be a disengagement in Gaza, because the alternative to this disengagement is more murder, terrorism and attacks, without us having a wise answer for what 7,500 Jews have to do among 1,200,000 Palestinians," Olmert told Israel Radio. "What can we do there beside more wars, more army, and more victims?"

Sharon said Sunday that he would consult the Likud ministers, the Knessest faction and his coalition partners to decide what steps to take.

"I know that much of the Israeli public supports my plan. I know that they feel, as I do, disappointment with the results of the referendum. We have difficult days before us where difficult decisions need to be made," Sharon said in a statement. (Click here for the full text of Sharon's statement)

Sharon is expected to respond publicly to the final results of the poll Monday afternoon in a meeting of the Likud faction in the Knesset.

"One thing is clear to me," he said in the statement released Sunday night, "Israel did not elect me to sit and do nothing for four years. I was election to find a way to bring quiet, security and peace to this nation." He promised to continue to lead Israel.

Sharon thanked U.S. President George W. Bush for his "deep friendship and leadership." He said that he had proposed and promoted the disengagement plan together with the U.S. and said that "Israel has never enjoyed such great, significant and historic support as it has received from the U.S."

The prime minister met Sunday night in Tel Aviv with top aides Uri Shani and Dov Weisglass and his son, Likud MK Omri Sharon.

Channel 1's survey found 62 percent of Likud members voted against the proposal, while just 38 percent voted in favor.

An Israel Radio poll found 59 percent of registered voters opposed the plan, while 40 percent supported it.

One Channel 10 poll found that 58 percent of Likud members voted against disengagement plan while 42 percent voted in favor. A second poll commissioned by the television station showed almost identical results with 59 percent of members saying they opposed the plan and 42 percent saying they voted in favor.

Channel 2 offered the most optimistic result for Sharon with 56 percent voting against the withdrawal plan and 44 percent voting in favor.

The Likud Central Elections Committee said only around 40 percent of the 193,190 registered Likud members voters participated in the poll.

In Jerusalem, 40 percent of Likud members voted, while 50 percent of registered members had voted in Beit She'an. In Hadera, Petah Tikva and Ramat Gan 38 percent of voters cast their ballot while 100 percent of Likud members had cast their ballot in the Gaza settlement of Netzarim. Just 7 percent of Arab voters had cast their ballot by Sunday evening.

Sharon issued a last-minute appeal to cabinet ministers Sunday, urging them to vote for his disengagement plan and to call on other Likud members to do the same.

Speaking shortly after polls for the referendum opened at 8 A.M., Sharon said at the weekly cabinet meeting, "I call on everyone to show responsibility and call on people to go and vote."

Sharon said the vote would determine the direction in which Israel was headed.

"This is a fateful decision, tough but the most important, which will determine whether Israel will move forward in all areas - in security, in economy, in education, in industry, in our relations with the United States - or move backward," Sharon said Sunday. "And each person must think good and well about the future of his children and his own future, and vote for my plan."



Apr. 30, 2004 17:38 | Updated May. 3, 2004 9:54
US: disengagement still a "step towards peace"
By JANINE ZACHARIA, GIL HOFFMAN AND HERB KEINON
http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/P/FrontPage/FrontPage&cid=1002116796299

Despite the defeat of the disengagement plan in the Likud party referendum, the White House said
late Sunday that it still considers the initiative "an important step toward peace."

59.5% of voting Likud members defeated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan according to
the final tally of votes Monday morning. 39.7% voted for the plan out of the 99,652 - 03 51.6% of
members who voted.

"We have been informed of the results of the Likud voting," the White House press secretary said in
a statement. "Our own view has not changed: The President welcomed Prime Minister Sharon's plan to
withdraw settlements from Gaza and a part of the West Bank as a courageous and important step toward peace."

The statement said the White House would consult with Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli
government "about how to move forward."

President Bush expended significant political capital last month when he embraced the Gaza
withdrawal plan and added some incentives for voters to approve it by endorsing, implicitly,
Israel's right to hold on to parts of the West Bank in a final peace agreement with the
Palestinians. He also suggested that Palestinian refugees would need to be resettled in a future
state of Palestine rather than Israel.

MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) Monday morning presented a bill to disperse Knesset, calling the plan one of
importance - both politically and strategically. "The rejection of the plan by Likud voters may have
critical effects on Israel's situation. The Knesset must be dissolved, and the public must be
allowed to vote on this issue," he told Israel Radio.

Shinui chairman Yossef Lapid said the plan had actually been rejected by a quarter of the members of
one party, and the vote therefore has no bearing on the Knesset or Shinui. If Sharon does not
present his plan to the government, Lapid told IBA news, "we will have to consider our position on
this and within the cabinet."

Meanwhile, security officials estimate Monday morning that Sharon's defeat may encourage
Palestinians to intensify terror attacks.

Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Moshe Ya'alon, on a visit to the Kissufim road site of Sunday's murer of a
mother and four daughters by Palestinian terrorists, told Army Radio Monday morning that the IDF
would have to reconsider its deployment around the Gaza routes and settlements.

Disengagement opponents warned overnight Sunday that they would operate against Sharon if he
attempted to bypass yesterday's decision. Deputy Minister Michael Ratzon told Ynet that "he who acts
against the party's positions has not place within it."

MK David Levy warned the PM against trying to manipulate matters. "This bad plan must go back from
whence it appeared," he said.

Tourism Minister Benny Elon (Nt'l Unity) told Army Radio that he was prepared to walk out of the
government and hopes Sharon is prepared to do the same. "I suggest Sharon first fire his cronies,
then leave his office," Elon said.

Landslide loss

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lost a landslide vote on his unilateral disengagement plan in Sunday's
referendum of Likud members.

The turnout, which was impacted by Sunday's terrorist attacks in the Gaza Strip, was only some 41
percent, or 79,000 out of the Likud's 193,000 voters.

A Channel 1 poll indicated that the final result would be 62% against and 38% in favor, Channel
Two's predicted 56% against and 44% in favor, and Channel 10 59-41%.

Sharon: not elected to sit quietly for 4 years

Following a meeting with his top advisers Sharon
released a statement saying that he was disappointed with the results but that he intends to honor
them. Sharon said he intends to consult with cabinet ministers and Likud MKs over the next few days
before deciding on his next move.

"I know that much of the Israeli public supports my plan and I know that they are as disappointed as
I am," Sharon said. "There are difficult days before us and we will have to make tough decisions.
One thing is clear to me: The public did not elect me to sit and do nothing for four years. I was
elected to restore the quiet, the security, and the peace that the people deserve. I intend to
continue to lead the state of Israel according to the best of my knowledge, my conscience, and my
obligation to the public."

Sharon's associates said the prime minister intends to find a "creative solution" to implement his
plan while still honoring the referendum. The associates said conducting a national referendum is a
possibility but elections are unlikely.

The prime minister was expected to update US President George W. Bush on the results of the vote
late Sunday and will speak publicly for the first time since the vote at Monday's Likud Knesset
faction meeting. Sharon's advisers said the prime minister decided to delay announcing his next move
in order to wait for the public outcry in favor of implementing his plan.

Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Ehud Olmert, Sharon's closest ally in the cabinet, said the
unilateral disengagement plan must continue to be implemented despite the results of the referendum. He said there is no other alternative to prevent further deaths in the Gaza Strip.

"I respect the decision of the voters, but we must change the status quo," Olmert said. "We have to
implement the unilateral disengagement, because we have to save families from getting killed in the Gaza Strip and we can't do it when 7,500 people continue living there."

Likud members only 4% of the voting public

Likud members make up only 4 percent of the Israeli electorate, and the low turnout among even that
fraction of voters could give Sharon wiggle room to ignore the referendum's results.

The results in Gaza Strip polling stations were 176 against and only five in favor in the settlement
of Nevei Dekalim and 13 for and 13 against in Alei Sinai.

In the Israeli-Arab town of Nazareth 60.8 percent were in favor and in the settlement of Beit El 100
percent were opposed.

At the settlement of Kochav Shachar 96 percent of Likud members voted against Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement.

In Hebron, at the settlement of Otniel, 99.3 percent rejected the prime minister's plan in Sunday's
Likud referendum.

Olmert said that his chief concern was "how to
prevent more families from getting harmed," commenting on Sunday's murder of a pregnant mother and
her four daughters in the Gaza Strip.

The government has to do whatever is necessary to safeguard the citizens of Israel, Olmert said
Sunday night. "In a sea surrounded by almost two million Arabs, like we are in the Gaza Strip, there
is no future. There is no chance. This cannot continue. People say that when we leave there will be
terror. But all this is happening when we are there, because we are there. There are places that I
know we will never leave. We won't leave Jerusalem, Ma'ale Adumim, Givat Ze'ev, Ariel and Gush
Etzion, and other places" Olmert added.

The plan's opponents called upon Sharon to drop the unilateral disengagement plan from the national
agenda and unite the party behind a new diplomatic plan that better represents the opinions of the
Likud.

Landau: No breakup of the Likud

Minister-without-Portfolio Uzi Landau, who led the
opposition to the plan, said the Likud would unite
behind the prime minister and the party will not be divided. He called upon Sharon to return to head
the nationalist camp, eradicate terror, and seek peace. "We started this campaign against all odds
and pressures," Landau said. "Now it is clear that we are a majority in the Likud and not a small
minority. The people did not hesitate to say 'no', Landau said, adding "There will be no breakup of
the Likud."

Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky said the vote proves that Likud members are thinking
people who don't take orders from their leaders. He said the terrorist attack convinced Likud voters
that Israel cannot withdraw unilaterally during its war on terror.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said, "the Likud is not the state of Israel, there were no elections
here today." Lapid said his Shinui party "had not decided anything this day, and Shinui is not
beholden to the Likud. We are partners with the Likud, but not beholden." The door has been left
open now for the Likud's right wing fringe to increase their hold on the party, Lapid added. Shiuni
is calling for the unilateral disengagement plan to be brought to the Knesset.

"Sharon should have taken my advice and opted instead for a general referendum, where he would have
won a majority for his plan amongst the population. He can still do it," Lapid said.

Lapid spoke to Sharon who told him that he intends to implement the plan, but that was before Sharon
was aware of the extent of the
defeat.

"We can't forget that these were not real elections," Lapid said. "The Likud is not the general
public. The Likud has lost touch with the public and it cannot be allowed to decide the fate of the
country."

Opposition leader Shimon Peres called on Sharon to
bring his plan to the Knesset and if it does not pass there, initiate new elections. The Labor
faction will meet on Monday to decide whether to support a bill for new elections, which Meretz
already announced it would already propose.

"A new situation has risen," Peres said. "The Likud's decision has forced the state into an
unacceptable position that will cause damage to Israel and its future. A new step must be taken. If
there is a majority in the Knesset, it should be brought there and if not we should turn back to the
nation."

Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz called the results a national tragedy and said they prove that only parties
on the Left can bring peace.

"The Likud has disengaged from the nation and proven that it prefers the political interests of an
extreme minority above the interests of a majority of the people who want to leave the Gaza Strip,"
Pines-Paz said. "In a proper democracy, when the government has nothing left to offer, there must be
new elections."

National Union leader Avigdor Lieberman said Sharon made a mistake in initiating the referendum to
try to bypass the cabinet. He said Sharon should not disengage from his party and the Right by
ignoring the results. National Religious Party chairman Effi Eitam said the coalition is stable and
Sharon has been rescued from the clutches of Labor.

MK Ahmed Tibi sent a telegram to US President George W. Bush, calling upon him to take back his
commitments to Sharon endorsing settlement blocs and ruling out the return of Palestinian refugees.

Haim Ramon (Labor) said that the Likud is a party not in touch with the nation. "The Likud is
against the people. The party has returned to its bad old days, an extremist right-wing party, led
by people like Moshe Feiglin and his ilk," Ramon said. "Sharon's duty is to carry out the will of
the people, and not just the Likud party. He must being this plan to a vote in the government,"
Ramon added. "A minority of extremists cannot hijack the nation. Sharon must bring the plan to the
Knesset, where there is a clear majority in favor of disengagement. He must either call for a
referendum, elections, or being the plan to the Knesset," Ramon added.

Steinitz: Sometimes, you need to lose

"Sometimes one needs to lose," said Likud MK Yuval Steinitz speaking on Channel 2. "This is a strong
blow to the Likud and the government," said Steinitz, who added, "we will respect the results."
Steinitz said that he is, on principle, against referendums when it comes to security and foreign
policy.

It is a bad day for Israel and for the Likud, Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni said. "I hope nobody
is thinking that the Likud can now not implement any plan," she said.

In reaction to inital exit polls, Agriculture Minister Israel Katz said that despite the predicted
loss Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government will not fall. "As of tomorrow we will all rally
behind the prime minister," Katz told Channel 2, "the current coalition will remain," he said. Katz
explain that opponents to the disengagement plan made it clear from the beginning that they are
opposed to the plan and not to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used Sunday's cabinet meeting to call on the Likud ministers to mobilize
their supporters and vote in favor of the disengagement plan.

"I call on all of you to show responsibility and to call on people to go vote," he told the
ministers at the opening of the cabinet meeting. Prior to the meeting, Sharon told reporters, "This
is a fateful decision, difficult, but extremely important, which will determine whether Israel will
move forward in all realms - security, economy, education, industry, and relations with the US - or
fall behind. Everyone needs to think very hard about the future of their children, and their own
future, and vote for my plan.

Under Sharon's plan of unilateral disengagement, Israel would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and
evacuate some 7,500 settlers, take down four small West Bank settlements and complete construction
of the West Bank security fence by the end of 2005. Sharon argues that this would give Israel
defensible borders and reduce friction with the Palestinians in the absence of a final peace deal.

Opponents say an Israeli withdrawal will be seen as victory by Palestinian terrorists, and that
Sharon is betraying the settlers, his erstwhile constituents. For decades, Sharon was the foremost
champion of settlement expansion.

With Nina Gilbert and AP



Last Update: 03/05/2004 11:49

Palestinians call on Israel to abandon unilateral moves

By Haaretz Service and News Agencies

The Palestinian Authority on Monday called on Israel to abandon all unilateral measures and return to the negotiations table.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat on Monday also called on U.S. President Gerorge W. Bush to withdraw the pledges made to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon during his trip to Washington in April, to allow Israel to maintain some settlement blocs in the West Bank and to veto a Palestinian right of return to lands within the State of Israel.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat was due to convene his cabinet on Monday to discuss the outcome of Sunday's Likud referendum on Sharon's disengagement plan.

The PA said Sunday in response to the exit polls that the Likud has no right to decide on the fate of Palestinians.

"I hope this will be an incentive to go back to the right path so we can find a just and permanent solution that will ensure the establishment of a Palestinian state," Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told Reuters.

"Nobody can decide on behalf of the Palestinians. No regional or international party has the right or can unilaterally decide on final status issues and on our legitimate rights."

Meanwhile, Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh on Sunday called on Israel to return to the negotiating table and to implement the internationally-brokered road map to Middle East peace.

"It's a frustrating day for us to see these Likud members taking themselves seriously to determine our fate. They have no right to overrule signed agreements," Erekat told Reuters.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Someone please honestly tell me that they actually believed that Sharon had any intention to go through with his "disengagement" plan?

My guess is that he knew all along the plan would be voted down by his party. Now he'll be able to say: "You can't blame me now, I tried to make "painful concessions."

His first phone call after the vote was tallied was probably to George Bush to see they are still friends.

Posted by Steven Beikich @ 05/03/2004 03:51 PM CST


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