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Likud Votes No on Palestinian State, but Sharon Says He Won’t Be Swayed

World leaders reacted with anger to the stance of Israel’s Likud Party against the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed he would not be swayed by the vote.

“I will not let internal political considerations and personal party scores set policy,” Sharon told the Likud caucus a day after Sunday’s vote, which was a political blow to him. “I do not intend to change my path.”

The Likud Party Central Committee’s decision against Palestinian statehood does not bind Sharon in diplomatic efforts with the Palestinians. But it was seen as a slap in the face, as the Central Committee rejected Sharon’s request to put off a decree on the matter and proceeded to pass the resolution.

The vote pitted Sharon against his political rival, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who supported the anti-state resolution and who is believed to be positioning himself to run for prime minister in the next national election.

The election is not scheduled until 2003, but could take place before then if Sharon’s unity government falls.

Likud moderates warned that the decision served smaller political interests, but ultimately would hurt Israel.

“The question is how Israel looks to the world,” Cabinet Minister Tzippi Livni said. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, “who in fact is behind inhuman acts of terrorism, will present, verbally, an atmosphere of moderation. We, who as a nation have worked tirelessly for peace, are putting forth a stance that is liable to put us out of the picture as a basis for all negotiations.”

Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who is chairman of the Labor Party, said that if the Likud decision is adopted as government policy it will be the end of the unity coalition.

“If it becomes clear to us that starting today the government begins acting according to ‘No to a Palestinian state,’ while we say ‘Yes to a Palestinian state,’ it is clear that we must go,” he said.

Ben-Eliezer’s colleague in Labor, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, said the party sees no reason to leave the unity government as long as it still follows the coalition guidelines, which are based on U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. Those call for Israel to withdraw from land it conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War to defensible and secure boundaries.

The U.S. reacted angrily to the Likud vote, and reaffirmed its belief that the path to peace includes a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully beside Israel.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, expressed regret over the decision, saying it is unfortunate that internal party politics could interfere with efforts toward peace.

Arafat called the decision the “destruction of the Oslo agreements.” Senior leaders of Arafat’s Fatah movement were quoted as calling for stepped-up terror attacks against Israel.

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