Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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20 Sivan 5764 - June 9, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Government Approves Disengagement Plan
by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

The cabinet voted in principle to withdraw from the Gaza Strip on the 37th anniversary of the day Israel moved in on the second day of the Six Day War. By a vote of 14-7, the cabinet, without the fired tourism minister Benny Elon and transportation minister Avigdor Lieberman, both of the National Union, approved the resolution.

The resolution was opposed by five Likud ministers: Ministers- without-Portfolio Uzi Landau and Natan Sharansky, Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz, Health Minister Dan Naveh, and Internal Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi; and also by Construction and Housing Minister Effi Eitam and Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev of the National Religious Party.

Likud's Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and Education Minister Limor Livnat decided in the end to support the resolution, after days of negotiations over a compromise proposed by Immigration Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni.

The government approved a staged disengagement plan, while noting, "There is nothing in this [decision] to [enable] evacuating settlements." At the same time, the resolution approved the preparatory work necessary to evacuate the settlements.

"After the preparatory work is completed, the government will reconvene in order to hold a separate discussion and decide whether to evacuate settlements, which settlements, and at what pace, dependent on the conditions at the time," the resolution reads.

In a sense, the government decided that all 21 settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank would be evacuated by the end of 2005. On the other hand, it put off voting on the implementation of this decision for another six or nine months, depending on how long it takes to draw up the necessary legislation dealing with compensation, resettlement, and other connected issues. Sharon promised the cabinet that no settlement would be removed before March..

The resolution also noted that US President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon exchanged letters prior to the revised disengagement plan, and that those letters "are presented here." There was difficulty with those letters since they mention the full withdrawal, and the key point of the compromise that allowed the wavering Likud ministers to support the decision was that there be no endorsement of withdrawal at this time.

After the eight-hour cabinet session, Sharon said, "Today, the state of Israel took a stand of great importance for its future. The government of Israel has approved the disengagement plan that I submitted, sending a clear message to the people of Israel, our Palestinian neighbors, and to the entire world that Israel is taking its future into its own hands."

Sharon said that it is Israel's intention to "relocate all of the Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in Samaria by the end of 2005."

"Most Israelis understand the great importance of today's government resolution," Sharon said. "It is a resolution that ensures the future of Israel. It is a resolution that is good for Israel's security, its international standing, its economy, and the demography of the Jewish people in the land of Israel."

Under the compromise that was reached, services will continue to be provided to the settlements targeted for evacuation, but no new building projects will be undertaken. Those projects that are in the process of being implemented will be reviewed by a special committee headed by the director- general of the Prime Minister's Office.

Sharon said that implementation of the plan is to be completed by the end of 2005, meaning that by then there will be no more Jewish settlements in Gaza, and that the preparatory work on evacuation of settlements will be completed by March 1, 2005 -- meaning that a cabinet decision on the actual implementation will take place by that date.

The future of the government is uncertain. The National Religious Party is divided about staying in the government. As we go to press all possibilities are open: the party may leave, it may stay or it may split with some leaving and some staying. Ministers Eitam and Levy announced that they will resign, but the rest of the party may stay. The situatio is very fluid.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants the National Religious Party to stay in the coalition because he feels it is important for the government to have a religious party, he told the Likud faction on Monday.

Even with the NRP in the government, the coalition has only a razor-thin majority of 61 MKs. In such a case, the saying goes, "each MK is a king," since every vote is needed.

Am Echad MK David Tal, who did not merge with Labor, may be brought into the coalition.

After the recent Am Echad merger, Labor has 21 MKs compared with Shinui's 15. Labor may join the government. However, Labor MKs said they see a national unity government as the last choice rather than the preferred choice.

Another possibility is that Shinui would leave and Shas and UTJ would come in.

11 Likud MKs banded together on Monday under the leadership of Minister-without-Portfolio Uzi Landau to say they would vote against any move toward a national unity government including Labor, should it come before the Knesset. Generally these MKs also oppose the disengagement plan and pledged to work against it.

The group included MKs Yuli Edelstein, Michael Eitan, Michael Gorlovksy, Yehiel Hazan, Moshe Kahlon, Ayoub Kara, Michael Ratzon, Ehud Yatom, Nomi Blumenthal, and David Levy. Gila Gamliel is also part of the group and it is assumed that Gilad Erdan is as well. Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky has also joined them even though he is not an MK and can not vote on the disengagement plan when it comes to the Knesset.

Sharon survived two no-confidence motions on Monday in votes of 46-31 and 41-26. Fifteen Labor Party MKs abstained in the first motion, sponsored by Yachad and the Arab factions. In the second motion, sponsored by Shas, both Labor and Yachad abstained.

Labor MK Chaim Ramon said his party decided not to vote against the government because of two moves that it welcomed: the firing of the National Union's ministers, and the fact that a right-wing government had approved the evacuation of the Gaza Strip.

The National Union voted against the government along with Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Arab factions. MK Amir Peretz, whose Am Echad recently merged with Labor, voted no confidence in both motions. National Union MK Michael Nudelman voted with the government.

Labor Party leader Shimon Peres said his party will "decide each day" how to vote in relation to the government.

Health Minister Dan Naveh, who voted against the plan in the cabinet, said now that it has been approved by the government he would support it in the Knesset.

The United States has welcomed the approval of the disengagement plan and urged Israel to move ahead quickly. Speaking in France on Friday, US President George W. Bush said he supported the "establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent."

The European Union responded cautiously to the Israeli cabinet's approval of the disengagement plan, saying that it is waiting to see what the government decides about the plan's implementation. Britain's Foreign Office issued a similar response.

Egypt put three conditions on Israel, the PA, and the US for its getting involved in Gaza. It demands that Israel stop incursions and assassinations, that the US back them and help implement the Gaza plan fully, and that the PA gives Egypt full authorization to reform, train, and reconstruct the security forces.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat indicated to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday that he would authorize the Egyptians. But PA officials said it is not certain that he will go along with all the proposed reforms.

Egypt demands that Arafat reduce the security forces to three groups, and place them under one command, possibly the prime minister or a senior official. Egypt also demands that Arafat replace leaders of the security forces with new faces.

Arafat's office issued a statement welcoming the Egyptian plan while also attacking it, warning that it deviates from the road map.

Sharon believes Egypt and Jordan are crucial to the success of his plan. Sharon envisions a far more substantive, long- term role for Egypt and Jordan in administering the plan than they currently are willing to accept.

Israel has hinted repeatedly that it wants Egypt and Jordan to maintain a substantive security presence in Palestinian areas after an Israeli withdrawal, but Egyptian and Jordanian officials say that's out of the question because it means Arab forces could be called on to quell Palestinian violence.


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