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U.S. Jews laud Knesset vote

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon begins a Knesset debate on his unilateral disengagement plan, Oct. 25 in Jerusalem. (Brian Hendler)

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon begins a Knesset debate on his unilateral disengagement plan, Oct. 25 in Jerusalem. (Brian Hendler)

NEW YORK, Oct. 26 (JTA) — The Knesset vote on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan may have sparked controversy inside Israel, but on the other side of the Atlantic it met with broad support. American Jewish organizations rushed Tuesday afternoon to weigh in with statements of support for the Knesset, which voted 67-45, with seven abstentions, in favor of the withdrawal plan. Sharon’s initiative was “not an easy decision, but we fully share the Israeli government’s view that it was the right decision to safeguard the future of the State of Israel,” the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, said in a statement. “We salute Prime Minister Sharon’s bold initiative and pledge our public support for the implementation of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza,” leaders of the Anti-Defamation League said. In a more tepid statement, the chairman and executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressed “support for the Knesset vote approving the Gaza disengagement plan,” noting that “further votes will be necessary for various stages of implementation.” “We hope that all parties will be able to come together to work on implementation and to minimize divisiveness,” James Tisch and Malcolm Hoenlein said. Despite Sharon’s Knesset victory, Ari Harow, executive director of American Friends of Likud, which advocates for Israel and Likud ideology in America, said that Tuesday was a difficult day. “I think it was a tough day for everyone involved, as the prime minister said himself,” Harow said. “Being that it’s such an explosive issue still amongst the nation, in the Knesset and definitely within the Likud party, we just hope that at some point in the near future it’s resolved so that everyone can unite around whatever policy it is that the Israeli public can decide upon.” Nearly all the Jewish groups issuing statements noted the impending anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, urging Israeli leaders to summon courage for peace with the Palestinians — and urging opponents to eschew violence. “As we approach the ninth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, we are again reminded of the urgent need for civility. We join with the vast majority of Israelis in urging respect for the lawful decisions of Israel’s elected leaders,” Harris said. Applauding Israel for reaching a “historic milestone on its decades-long quest for peace and security,” the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also recalled Rabin’s memory. In commemorating Rabin, the group said that “today’s vote motivates us even more to do all we can to support his unfulfilled quest for two states living side-by-side in peace and security,” JCPA chair Marie Abrams said. Americans for Peace Now took its kudos a step further, saying the Knesset move was precedent setting. “Approval of this disengagement plan sets an important precedent for the evacuation of other settlements in the years ahead,” President and CEO Debra DeLee said. However, Tuesday’s vote doesn’t authorize the removal of any particular settlements. Withdrawal is to be carried out in stages beginning next year, with each step requiring a separate Cabinet approval. “We call upon Prime Minister Sharon to be steadfast in carrying out the removal of settlements from all of Gaza and part of the West Bank, ideally in coordination with Palestinian leaders, as well as to fulfill Israel’s commitments regarding outposts and settlement construction,” DeLee continued, citing several of Israel’s commitments under the “road map” peace plan. “We call upon Palestinian leaders to capitalize on the opportunity that disengagement offers them by demonstrating good governance in Gaza and fighting terrorism there to ensure a secure Israeli evacuation.”

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