Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Tishrei 5765 - October 13, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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The Wild Winter Knesset Session Opens
by E. Rauchberger and M. Plaut

The Winter Session in the Knesset, which is expected to be historical and decisive, opened Monday with a mild speech by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He made only brief mention of the Disengagement Plan to avoid antagonizing the NRP, half of which is still within the government. Instead he is postponing the thrust of the battle for two weeks, when the plan comes before the Knesset for a vote. Nonetheless, in a purely symbolic act, the Knesset voted 53 to 44 against adopting Sharon's statement, after the Labor Party decided to withhold support until the plan itself is brought for approval. A dozen Likud MKs who oppose disengagement and the four National Religious Party MKs who are still in the government did not participate in the vote.

The Likud tried to arrange the approval of resolutions that would have been less significant, but Sharon insisted that his statement be put to a vote. The vote was not directly about the Disengagement Plan, but nonetheless Sharon's internal opponents did not support him. A Sharon associate said, "The Likud MKs who said all along that they support Sharon but oppose disengagement proved that they cannot be trusted."

Many observers are sure that Sharon and his coalition will not make it through the Winter Session in one piece and that elections sometime next summer are inevitable. For the past several years elections have been held every two years, after the government reached the end of the line in the middle of a Winter Session. This is what happened in 1999, in 2001 and in 2003. And the moment of reckoning is not months down the road, but just weeks away.

The schedule is packed. Just one week from next Monday (on October 25-10 Cheshvan) the Prime Minister will present the Disengagement Plan to the Knesset. Two days later which Sharon will likely spend scampering behind the scenes to garner as large a majority as possible, the plan will come to a vote.

According to Sharon's calculations the plan will pass, and he seems to be right. He is more-or-less guaranteed 21 votes from the Labor Party, 6 from Meretz, 8 from Arab MKs and 15 from Shinui, bringing the total to 50. Pulling in another 11 votes from the Likud, which has 39 altogether, should be no problem.

One week later Sharon plans to present another potential bombshell: the Relocation-Compensation Bill. Another two whole days will be devoted to deliberations on this matter before its first reading, two days that will invariably be tense and filled with drama in the Knesset and the entire political system.

The very next day Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will bring the 2005 Budget before the Knesset plenum for a first reading. After the two deliberations over disengagement, nobody can say how the budget vote will pan out, who will vote in favor and who against, and who will try to topple the government because of the disengagement. If the government does not pass a budget by March, new elections are automatic.

Sharon's Speech

"Within just the next few weeks this house will have to make some very difficult decisions that are critical to the security of Israel, to its prosperity and its future," began Sharon. Differences of opinion are legitimate before a decision is made, he said, but after a majority vote everybody must unite around the outcome.

The Prime Minister went on to discuss how the government cleaved to President Bush's Roadmap Plan and would have liked to implement it, but because there was no partner on the Palestinian side the Disengagement Plan was brought into being. "That this plan is the subject of fierce public debate [in Israel] is no secret," he said. "In the Knesset an open discussion will be conducted on the plan the government decided [to put forth]. There I will present in full all of the considerations that led the government to initiate the plan. Everyone will be able to examine all of the documents, study the issue in depth, express his opinion and vote. This is how a democratic administration operates."

Sharon also devoted a considerable portion of his speech to the settlers. "I know how hard it is for a family to sever itself from its way of life. These are people sent to the Gaza Strip by Israeli governments. Some of them have been there for 30 years. Each of them has built a home and a family. Children have been born and the dead have been buried there. I know and understand what they feel, how hard it is to part from the house you built with your own two hands, from the field you plowed, from the hothouse you tended, from the tree you planted, from the garden you watered, from the earth, from the landscape and from the memories. I feel sorry for all those who refuse to understand this, those who cry out for their removal, whose only desire is to see the pictures of the Jewish settlers plucked from their land. In contrast I feel their pain, which is deeper and more real than we can imagine."

Turning his attention to security affairs he said the war against terror would continue. On economic matters he enumerated several successes, seemingly oblivious to the increase in poverty. "Are we talking about the same country?" MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni called out.

Interruptions were also heard from other benches. When Sharon spoke about disengagement, protests were heard from the Right. When he spoke about the war against terror and the struggle against the Palestinians, objections were voiced by the Arab MKs. And when he came to the subject of economic and social affairs shouts were rained down on him from Labor, UTJ, Shas and Am Echad MKs.


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