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Sharon Ally Doubts Israel PM Can Win Support for Uprooting Settlers

A member of Israel's ruling Likud Party says while he welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's opening of a debate on the future of the occupied territories, he says he does not believe Mr. Sharon will win the necessary support for uprooting Jewish settlements.

Mr. Sharon has sparked a heated debate within his party by publicly supporting a Palestinian state and talking about possible unilateral moves.

Most observers believe he is preparing the way for a possible future withdrawal of troops from some parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the uprooting of some Jewish settlements.

Mordechai Taub, a member of the Likud Central Committee representing Jewish settlers, opposes such a policy. At the same, he told Israel Radio he defends Mr. Sharon's right to speak his mind. "Although I disagree with him, and I think his ideas are bad and dangerous for the security of the country and against our ideology," said Mr. Taub, "I believe he provided a great service by speaking frankly and openly and saying what he actually believes and therefore causing other individuals to be forced to take specific positions. And I believe that is healthy for democracy, its healthy for the Likud and its healthy for the future of this country."

Mr. Taub said that while he believes the debate is constructive, in the end Mr. Sharon will not win support he needs either at home or abroad for unilateral moves.

"The Palestinians in reality will be angry and the Americans are angry because it looks as if we are attempting to pre-determine what they consider are the final borders [of a Palestinian state]," said Mr. Taub.

Members of the Likud and other Israeli factions are hoping to learn more about Mr. Sharon's vision of the future when he delivers a major policy speech on Thursday.

Israel media reports that Mr. Sharon is expected to reaffirm his support for the international "road map" to peace plan and a Palestinian state.

Observers say Mr. Sharon will add that if negotiations with the Palestinians on the implementation of the plan break down, then he will consider unilateral steps.