Sharon wins vote
by: Larry James - Last updated: 2004-10-27
When the votes were counted Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had the victory he had sought, with 67 votes for, 45 against and seven abstentions for removing Jewish Settlements in Gaza.
There were some tense moments when five cabinet ministers walked out before their names could be called for the vote. Only when the members were polled a second time did the five, led by Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu cast their votes in favor of the plan. But the ministers said they would resign from their posts if Mr Sharon does not hold a national referendum on the disengagement plan within 14 days.
Nearly half of 40 lawmakers from Mr Sharon's Likud party voted against the plan, and two religious parties the prime minister had courted to be part of a new coalition government, cast their votes against it.
Opponents of the plan failed in a last minute maneuver to derail the vote. The National Religious Party threatened to quit the government within two weeks if Mr Sharon did not agree to hold a national referendum in the coming months.
The prime minister has rejected demands for a referendum, which is seen as a stalling tactic to give opponents of the pullout more time to organize support for their position. Nationwide polls show a majority of Israelis favor a withdrawal.
The National Religious Party had been expected to oppose the plan anyway, but their announcement may have encouraged other members of Mr. Sharon's Likud Party to vote against the plan.
The withdrawal plan has bitterly divided Israel, and saw the transformation of Mr Sharon from the settlers' biggest proponent to their most powerful political enemy. As recently as early 2003, Mr. Sharon called the Gaza settlements an essential part of Israel. But after four years of devastating violence in the region, Mr. Sharon changed course saying the continued occupation of Gaza, where some 8000 Jewish settlers live amid 1.3 million Palestinians, is untenable.
Tuesday's vote is only the first of several required before the plan can be implemented next year but it marks the first time parliament has approved the dismantling of Jewish settlements in Gaza or the West Bank.
Mr Sharon says his plan will boost Israel's security. He also believes it will blunt international criticism of Israel. Palestinians say it will strengthen Israel's hold over large parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Palestinians claim for a future state.
Story supplied by: VOAnews