Exit polls in Israel show that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan from some Palestinian areas has been firmly rejected by his Likud Party. While Mr. Sharon has acknowledged defeat in Sunday's referendum, he says he has no intention of resigning.
The exit polls broadcast late Sunday showed that between 58 and 62 percent of Likud members voted against the prime minister's plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
Observers say opponents of the plan were more motivated than Mr. Sharon's supporters. The Likud Central Elections Committee says that only about 40 percent of the nearly 200,000 members eligible to take part in the referendum actually cast ballots.
Besides low-voter turnout, another factor that appeared to weigh against the prime minister was the killing on Sunday of a pregnant Israeli woman and her four daughters in an ambush by Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip.
It is believed the killings prompted many previously undecided Likud voters to reject the plan.
Mr. Sharon said in a statement late Sunday that he intended to remain as prime minister despite the outcome of the referendum. He also suggested that his Likud Party would not have the final say on the plan.
Mr. Sharon said that, in addition to consulting members of his own faction, he would also talk with other parties, as well as his cabinet ministers, on the ramifications of the result.
Mr. Sharon says he was elected to find a way to "bring peace and security," which may indicate he still intends to take the plan before the cabinet and the parliament, where he is more confident of winning majority support. "One thing is clear to me," the prime minister said, "the Israeli people did not elect me to sit on my hands for four years."
The Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, praised the referendum result and urged Mr. Sharon to abandon his plan.
The Palestinian leader says the best chance for peace is for Israel and the Palestinians to revive talks aimed at reaching a permanent agreement to end their conflict.
Mr. Qureia had welcomed efforts to hand over more territory to the Palestinians but was against this being done unilaterally, as envisioned under Mr. Sharon's plan.