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Sharon to Submit Revised Gaza Pullout Plan - 2004-05-27


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's revised plan to pull out of Gaza and small parts of the West Bank is being presented to cabinet ministers.

Ever since the stinging rejection by members of his Likud party in early May, Mr. Sharon has sought another avenue to win approval for his disengagement plan.

He has been meeting with key cabinet ministers and has slightly modified the original proposals in an attempt to win over the skeptics and try to ensure the plan's acceptance at Sunday's cabinet session.

Mr. Sharon's original disengagement plan called for a complete Israeli pull-out from Gaza and the dismantling of four small settlements from the West Bank.

Public opinion polls show that the vast majority of Israelis support such a plan. But, analysts say Mr. Sharon may have been overconfident about winning over his own Likud party, whose hard-liners voted overwhelmingly against the plan in a May 2 referendum.

Mr. Sharon is still expected to propose dismantling all the Gaza settlements and the four in the West Bank. But, the pull-out would be implemented in four phases and each phase would be brought before the cabinet for prior approval.

Gaining support from his own party and from other right-wing parties within his coalition has been the biggest hurdle for Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan.

But, security analyst, retired General Shlomo Brum of Tel Aviv's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, says Mr. Sharon is waging what he calls his own internal struggle over dismantling settlements.

?One may say that there are two Sharons struggling [against] each other,? he said. ?One of them is the rational Sharon who understands that this is what should be done [dismantling the settlements]. The other is the emotional Sharon who is attached to the settlements because they are his creation.?

The fact that Mr. Sharon had been one of the great proponents of settlement building, made his decision to begin dismantling them feel all the more like betrayal to settlers and their supporters.

But analysts say Mr. Sharon realizes that holding on to Gaza is too costly, both in monetary and human terms.

Pressure on Mr. Sharon has intensified after this month's incursions in Gaza, among the bloodiest in Gaza in recent years.

The military actions brought worldwide condemnation, including from the United States. And, even Turkey, Israel's only Muslim ally, has voiced a rare public rebuke.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was apparently quite blunt in his criticism during a meeting with visiting Israeli Infrastructure Minister, Joseph Paritzky. And, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Wednesday that Turkey is considering recalling its ambassador in Israel for consultations.

Mr. Sharon has said he remains committed to his withdrawal plan. It now remains to be seen if he can get it over the most immediate hurdle - his own cabinet

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