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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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