Gov't in crisis as Netanyahu foils PM's mini-plan

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 28-May-04 | Author: Aluf Benn| Source: Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will today decide whether he is going to bring any version of his battered Gaza disengagement plan to the cabinet for discussion and approval on Sunday. Yesterday he pulled the draft proposal when he realized he had no majority for even the most watered-down version of his initiative.

Sharon attempted to promote a compromise plan under which the government would recognizes the revised version as part of the overall disengagement plan, while deciding only to implement its first stage - evacuating three Gaza Strip settlements, Netzarim, Rafah Yam and Morag.

But Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not support any proposal that recognized the general plan and would agree only to the limited proposal to evacuate the three settlements.

Sharon's bureau yesterday leveled harsh criticism at Netanyahu, saying he was acting out of purely political considerations. The prime minister's associates believe Netanyahu realized his proposal for a limited pullout would paralyze the government - the right-wing parties would resign, the Labor Party would not be able to join, and the American administration would be unable to support the initiative.

Sources at the Finance Ministry last night said: "We don't want to seem as if we're forcing anyone's hands, and we're open to suggestions." Netanyahu's associates said that if the proposal was phrased in a more vague manner, so as to not look like an approval of the whole withdrawal plan that was rejected at the Likud Party referendum, then "perhaps it would be something we can live with."

The seriousness of the political crisis became clear yesterday at a meeting Sharon convened with his advisers and associates. It was said at the meeting that all four of the ministers who were deliberating whether to support the plan, were only willing to support the limited pullout from the three Gaza Strip settlements.

Uri Shani suggested a proposal according to which the government would "note before it" the full plan, while voting on the implementation of the first stage only. Sharon was not enthusiastic about the idea, but decided to give it a try.

At 12:35 Netanyahu arrived at the meeting scheduled for him with Sharon. The finance minister at the outset told Sharon that he must get the widest possible support "in order to avoid a rift in the Likud and a breaking up of the party, you must go for a reduced plan with the full support of the party's ministers," he said.

"Okay," Sharon said, but when Netanyahu read the formula for recognizing the whole plan, he said "This is the same lady in different clothes. I cannot support a plan that is similar, or in so many words identical to the plan that the Likud Party voted against."

Sharon: "Are you open to other wordings?" Netanyahu: "Yes." He agreed to a pullout from the three settlements, with no mention of the original plan. After rejecting Sharon's plan, Netanyahu told him, "this is unacceptable to me, but check with the other ministers, so that nobody says I'm inciting them."

According to one version of events, Sharon during the meeting called one of the three undecided ministers, who rejected the initiative. Sharon's associates continued through the night to look for an alternative compromise draft.