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May 2, 2004
Sharon Plan Defeated By Own Party

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may face the end of his career now that his high-stakes gamble on withdrawal from Gaza has apparently backfired:

TV polls indicated Sunday that the ruling Likud Party overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposal to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank settlements. ... The telephone polls, conducted by Israel's three main TV stations, gave opponents a large lead of between 12 and 24 percentage points.

A survey by Channel 2 had the smallest lead for opponents, with 56 percent against the plan and 44 percent in favor. On Channel 10, the poll indicated 58 had voted against and 42 percent in favor. The greatest gap was given by Channel 1, with 62 percent against and 38 percent in favor.

In a stunning defeat, Sharon could not even secure a bare majority of his own party for his policy of disengagement in Gaza, putting into question his ability to lead the government. Sharon himself said as much earlier this week when he told Likud members that they could not both support him and vote against the proposed disengagement plan. Referendums have a nasty habit of blowing up in one's face, a subject on which his British counterpart, Tony Blair, has acquired recent experience as well.

Sharon's plan likely faced defeat anyway, but the killing of a pregnant settler in Gaza and four of her children earlier in the day settled the issue for Likud members:

Also Sunday, gunmen killed a pregnant Jewish settler and four of her children in Gaza, and Israel responded with a missile attack on a Hamas radio station. The woman was apparently on her way into Israel to help campaign against the Gaza withdrawal plan.

All this leaves open the question of what the next steps will be. If Israelis insist on remaining in Gaza, at least until final negotiations, then they will need to identify honest negotiation partners as soon as possible. Otherwise, Likud just voted to continue the violence indefinitely without any strategy to bring it to a close.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 2, 2004 3:01 PM

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