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Israeli Parliament Gives Final Approval on Gaza Disengagement


Israel's parliament, the Knesset, handed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a victory Wednesday night giving final approval to his controversial plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four smaller ones in the West Bank.

The vote was 59 to 40, in favor of a bill to compensate the 8,500 settlers who will be affected by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan. The plan will need the approval of the Cabinet in what is essentially a procedural vote that is to come on Sunday. That will be followed by separate Cabinet votes on each phase of the planned withdrawal. The bill is the key legislation underlying Mr. Sharon's disengagement plan.

The disengagement issue is highly controversial. While opinion polls have consistently shown that the majority of Israelis favors the withdrawal, anti-disengagement protesters have demonstrated frequently and at times tussled with police.

Sentiments and tempers often run high, as right-wing activist Baruch Marzel expressed to Israeli TV when asked what he believes should be done to fight the Sharon disengagement plan.

"I'll fight the police. I'll fight the army and I'll fight Sharon who is a traitor. We'll fight him as you have to fight a traitor," he said.

Recent threats on Mr. Sharon's life and those of prominent government officials who support him have raised serious security concerns and have led to a beefing up of the security detail that follows the prime minister.

While Mr. Sharon has won this significant round in gaining Knesset approval, there are still hurdles ahead. The vote on the 2005 budget may be even more crucial. By law the budget must get final approval in the Knesset by March 31. If not, the government automatically falls and new elections have to be called. And that, disengagement opponents know, could postpone, if not derail the entire plan.