“I have no majority for the budget – I need you to vote for me,” he was quoted as telling his party.
The prime minister has come under fire from Likud “rebels” and Jewish settlers who claim the West Bank and Gaza as their biblical birthright
Israeli opinion polls show most Israelis are in favor of the plan but settlers and staunch right-wing Knesset members, including some from Likud, had pushed in recent months for a nation-wide referendum on the pullout, which is scheduled to begin in July and last up to a
The Knesset Legislative Committee had passed a proposal to bring to parliament a bill for a nationwide referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s pullout plan despite his opposition to one, in a move that could delay a planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza.
Sharon has always ruled out a referendum on his pullout plan. But in a bid to seal a rift within Likud and avoid new elections, the prime minister had given the committee the green light to vote on the proposal after the finance committee passed a proposal Tuesday to bring the state budget to a parliamentary vote.
“If all of Likud votes in favor of the referendum and Labor says it won’t back the budget, there would be new elections,” Sharon told the Likud members. “Stop making the settlers feel this (pullout) is a sacrifice. You are weakening the heroic settlers.”
Sharon makes promises
Likud faction members who attended the meeting told Ynet that Sharon said he would “not made any deal with Syria,” referring to recent comments by Syrian officials who expressed interests in renewing diplomatic talks, which Israel rejects unless it makes stops to stop terrorists like Hizbullah.
The Likud officials also said Sharon promised them that “there would be no concessions regarding Jerusalem,” referring to past proposals by Israeli governments to yield East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. The Israeli government had recently approved plans to speed up construction of Jewish settlements around the city.
Media analysts have said that the budget is likely to pass in the Knesset and the referendum bill is likely to fail, as Sharon could muster a majority made up of members of his cabinet and of other parties outside his coalition, such as the centrist Shinui party, who want to avoid new elections to ensure the pullout occurs.
Committee members from the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism (UTJ), which joined Sharon’s coalition in January under the condition that the faction receives more funds, cast the deciding votes on the referendum bill proposal after the party’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Shalom Yosef Eliashiv, approved the measure.
Knesset member Avraham Poraz of Shinui slammed the UTJ decision, saying they showed no loyalty to the government they joined and were only out to extort money from Sharon.
“UTJ always votes against the prime minister,” he said. “They voted against the evacuation-compensation bill and against disengagement. The prime minister brought them into the coalition, but apart from squeezing as much money as they could, they are no help at all.”