Sharon Survives No-Confidence Vote After Gaza Plan Defeat

In a party referendum Sunday on the Gaza plan — which called for the withdrawal of Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip — some 60 percent of party members voted against the plan, Israeli Army Radio reported Monday.

Despite the overwhelming defeat in the referendum, Sharon’s coalition, which holds 68 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament, showed it had not turned its back on the prime minister. He won the no-confidence vote by a 62-46 vote.

Leftist and Arab parties had presented the no-confidence motion over what they called the government’s “failure socio-economically and diplomatically.”

After the defeat of the no-confidence motion, Sharon reportedly walked the aisles, smiling and shaking hands. The Israeli leader has beaten back several such votes this year.

In contrast to the Likud party views on the Gaza pullout plan, opinion polls show that some two-thirds of the total Israeli public supported the proposal, according to The New York Times.

“I know a great many among the Israeli public support my plan,” Mr. Sharon said after the vote, the Times reported. “I know that like me they feel disappointed.”

The prime minister told lawmakers Monday that he could work to modify his Gaza plan, according to his deputy.

“The prime minister said, ‘We have to put together a plan, perhaps not an identical one, in order to continue forward’, and I presume that is what he will do,” Vice Premier Ehud Olmert told reporters after Sharon addressed Likud lawmakers.

Sharon warned “difficult decisions will need to be made” in talks with his coalition Cabinet and party factions, Reuters reported.

Sharon’s office also denied Monday that he was considering dismissing Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the defeat of the Gaza withdrawal plan.

Political sources said Sharon was angry at his Likud rival for offering only lukewarm support to the U.S.-backed plan, according to Reuters.

But a spokesman in Sharon’s office said, “The prime minister is not considering firing Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu had publicly supported Sharon’s plan to remove settlers from Gaza and four of the 120 settlements in the West Bank but did not lobby his many supporters within Likud to get them to vote.

The vote on the Gaza plan came on a deadly day in the region. Two Palestinian gunmen killed a pregnant Israeli woman and her four young daughters in a roadside ambush in Gaza Sunday. The gunmen were killed in a gun battle with Israeli soldiers.

The family was reportedly on its way to campaign against Sharon’s Gaza plan at a polling place in Israel. An alliance of two Palestinian groups, the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, later claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the BBC.

Israel later retaliated, conducting a missile strike on a car in the West Bank city of Nablus that killed four Palestinian militants. Earlier in the day, Israeli helicopter gunships attacked a building in Gaza City housing a radio station reportedly linked to Hamas.

In the wake of the Likud vote, Palestinian officials said the party had no right to decide Palestinians’ future by an internal vote and called again for negotiations based on a stalled U.S.-backed “road map” for Middle East peace.

The Middle East Quartet responsible for the road map — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — plan on meeting Tuesday in New York to discuss their next steps in light of recent developments, including the Likud vote and continuing bloodshed in the region.