Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has fired two of his cabinet ministers in a move to secure passage of his controversial plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip. The cabinet has been deeply divided over the issue and getting rid of two opponents of the plan is expected to give Mr. Sharon a slim majority for Sunday's vote.
Mr. Sharon summoned Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Tourism Minister Benny Elon to his office for Friday morning. They never showed up, but the Prime Minister went ahead and sent messengers to their homes to deliver the official dismissal notices.
The firing of the two hard-line ministers from the National Union party is the latest political maneuvering over the past few weeks. The action was widely predicted since both Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Elon were among the vehement opponents of Prime Minister Sharon's disengagement plan.
The plan calls for the dismantling of all 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip along with the withdrawal of the troops that now protect them. It also calls for dismantling four small settlements in the West Bank.
The plan won international approval, including an endorsement from President Bush. But it's opposed by Mr. Sharon's Likud Party and other right-wing groups. Some of Mr. Sharon's own Likud ministers actually led the opposition in the cabinet, after rank and file Likud members voted against the plan in a referendum on May 2.
Numerous political discussions followed and Mr. Sharon proposed a revised, watered-down version of his original disengagement plan. When even that appeared unlikely to gain approval, the Prime Minister did an about-face, seemingly ready to force a showdown with his ministers.
But, a vote in the cabinet was postponed last Sunday as Mr. Sharon did not have a majority of votes on his side. He's let it be known that he might reshuffle the cabinet if need be to push the plan through. Getting rid of the two right-wing ministers should ensure enough votes for approval in this Sunday's cabinet session. But, even a yes vote could still spark a further political crisis if another pro-settler coalition partner, the National Religious Party, quits the government as it has threatened to do. That would mean Mr. Sharon might have to seek a new coalition or call for early elections.