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Miles to Go Before Withdrawal: Sharon Plan Still Faces Opposition

The battles over Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israel from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank next year appear to be far from over. Some 67 out of 120 legislators were expected to support the plan in a Knesset vote Tuesday, with opposition lawmakers as likely to back Sharon as his fellow right wingers.

Sharon has already faced substantial opposition to the plan and indications are it may intensify.

On Saturday, the Shas Party made clear that its 11 lawmakers would oppose the slated evacuation of more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza.

“This plan is absolutely illegitimate. It is forbidden to vote for it,” Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in a sermon. “If, God forbid, they uproot Jewish communities, who will come to take their place? The terrorists.”

Several leading Israeli rabbis have said recently that the plan contravenes Jewish law, raising fears of a mutiny in military ranks.

Sharon faces dissent even within his own ruling Likud Party by those who have called on the former army general not to turn his back on the “Greater Israel” ideal he long championed.

Earlier this year, Sharon lost a plebiscite on the plan from his own Likud Party, and while the Cabinet on Sunday approved a bill on compensating settlers who agree to relocation and punishing those who resist evacuation, five of the six “no” votes belonged the Likud ministers.

One of the naysayers, Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, said this was a matter of conscience, and asked Sharon not to punish Likud members who vote against withdrawal in the Knesset.

But the prime minister may eventually consider a Cabinet reshuffle.

The center-left Labor Party and liberal bloc Yahad have agreed to extend Sharon a “safety net” by voting for his plan on Tuesday. Even the two-member United Arab List has joined in, calling the Gaza withdrawal a step in the direction of Palestinian statehood.

But the idea that the withdrawal constitutes such a step is uncertain.

According to a Foreign Ministry legal advisory that surfaced Sunday, by planning to continue controlling Gaza’s border crossings, coastline and airspace after the withdrawal, Israel will remain responsible for the territory.

“The more active control is given to other parties, the more difficult it will be to claim Israel is still responsible,” the 47-page report said.

According to The Associated Press, the Foreign Ministry’s legal advisers proposed that Israel allow international peacekeepers into Gaza. But Jerusalem has consistently stated that a foreign presence in Gaza would limit its options for any military action.

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