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Sharon's Disengagement Plan Clears Parliamentary Hurdle


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial disengagement plan from settlements in Gaza and the West Bank cleared another hurdle in parliament Monday, after opponents failed to secure enough votes for a national referendum on the pullout.

After a heated and, at times, tumultuous debate, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, defeated a proposal to submit the Sharon plan to a nationwide referendum.

Mr. Sharon considers calls for a vote on his disengagement plan as a delaying tactic. While it was expected that the proposal would not pass in the legislature, it was a serious concern for the government, since Mr. Sharon's main coalition partner, the Labor Party, has warned it would quit the government if a referendum were approved. Labor is a staunch supporter of the Gaza withdrawal.

In the end, the motion was defeated 72-39, with the help of the opposition Labor and Shinui parties, along with the ultra-Orthodox religious party, Shas.

On Monday, Uzi Landau a leading opponent of the Gaza withdrawal tried, unsuccessfully, to get the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party to support the referendum. Shas controls 11 seats in the 120-member parliament. Their leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, opposes a Gaza withdrawal, but he also opposes holding a referendum, fearing it would set a precedent, and could be used in the future by Israel's secular majority against the ultra-Orthodox minority.

The proposed dismantling of all 21 Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank this summer has split Mr. Sharon's Likud Party.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, criticized Israel and, indirectly, the United States over U.S. support for Israel retaining main settlements in the West Bank in a final peace deal.

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