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Arab World Expresses  Mixed Reaction to Likud Rejection of Sharon's Plan - 2004-05-03

There are diverse reactions from the Arab world following Sunday's Likud Party vote in Israel rejecting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Arab reaction to the Likud Party vote ranges from only mild interest to fears of renewed violence in the Palestinian territories.

In Jordan, the head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies, Uraib el-Rantawi, says the defeat of Mr. Sharon's plan, to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, may lead to increased confrontations.

"I think that the feeling among the public opinion here in Jordan is that Israel is not serious about the whole peace process," said Mr. el-Rantawi. "And, for many Jordanians I think the forthcoming scenarios in Palestine is the worst. People do believe a new era of clashes, of confrontation, of violence will be launched in the occupied territories."

In Lebanon, the head of the political science department at the Lebanese-American University, Sami Baroudi, says many Lebanese do not consider the Likud party vote counts for much.

"I do not think people really think that the plan, from the beginning, was really serious," he said. "I think, basically, for people here, they are more focused on what is going on in Gaza, on those things. So these matters, while very important, I do not think the people are really giving much attention to the vote within the Likud."

But Arab affairs expert and former Egyptian diplomat Abdullah el-Ashaal sees things differently. He thinks Arabs in general are cheered by the Sunday vote because it strengthens the case for a negotiated settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I think in the Arab world they look at the voting in the Likud party as a victory, that Sharon should not be supported and a negotiated settlement is the only solution for the problem," said Mr. el-Ashaal.

Senior Arab officials have are opposed to any unilateral action by Israel. They say they do not think Sunday's vote will prevent the Israeli prime minister from going ahead with his plan to remove most troops and 21 Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Sharon has so far only said he plans to meet with senior Israeli government officials and coalition parties to discuss the consequences of Sunday's vote.