The situation of PM Sharon is, to put it frankly, embarrassing. His inaugural presentation to the Knesset for the winter session on Monday was followed by a vote, that he lost 53 to 44. The Labor Party, under the leadership of Shimon Peres, has decided to support the Disengagement Plan, but not the Government. So although the main proposal in Sharon’s speech was the Plan, because it was a general statement and not a specific bill, Labor voted against it. Peres issued a statement that they will vote for the actual Disengagement bill only when it is presented and if they agree with all of it.
The Likud was split over the speech, and 12 Likud MKs abstained from the vote In retaliation the next day Sharon invited all Likud MKs who supported him to a meeting, and excluded the rebels. Then he issued a warning to them that in effect he would expel them from the Likud. How he will manage to do this when the Likud Central Committee has twice voted against his Disengagement Plan by an overwhelming majority is unclear.
Likud is not the only party that is split. The National Religious Party (NRP) that is a member of the coalition, was split, with 4 abstaining and 2 voting for the speech. So Sharon is talking once again of re-constituting his Coalition, either with other religious parties (Shas, Torah Judaism) or Labor. But, Labor is split between those who want to join a National Unity Government (led by Peres) and the majority who are against. So for the moment, Sharon is leading a minority government with no clear option in sight, except that he expects a majority to vote for the Disengagement Plan bill that he will introduce in two weeks time, on Oct. 25, followed a week later by the necessary appropriations bill to implement it.
In effect Sharon is reduced to a situation where any piece of legislation, except perhaps the Disengagement Plan itself, could be rejected by the Knesset and the Government could fall. This could lead to early elections, although it seems that most of the politicians are wary of this, fearing that they too may be rejected. An alternative to the vote in the Knesset has been the proposal to have a national referendum on the Disengagement Plan, that would clarify the situation once and for all. But, Sharon and a majority of the Cabinet oppose a referendum, fearing two things, first that the Government’s decision-making ability will be permanently compromised, and second that if the results of the referendum were unclear or challenged, for whatever reason, this might lead to chaos. So the Disengagement Plan is the likely route in the near future.
In the British Parliament, both PM Blair and FM Jack Straw have announced their support for Sharon in carrying out his “courageous” plan, and the Bush Administration has given their support. This is only one of the reasons why Sharon is pursuing this initiative, hoping that it will end or at least ameliorate Israel’s increasing diplomatic isolation. One of the first fruits of this is that there has been very limited criticism of the IDF’s incursions into northern Gaza to clear out the terrorist infrastructure that is involved in shooting rockets into Israel. Great damage has been done to Jabalya, Beit Hanun and Beit Lahiya, and many Hamas and other gunmen have been killed.
Another notable success of Israeli forces was the capture yesterday of the leader of the Hamas cell in Hebron, Imad Kawasmeh. He is considered responsible for the double suicide bombing that occurred in Beersheva several weeks ago in which 16 Israelis were killed, as well as many other attacks. He was surrounded in a complex of supposedly empty houses owned by his clan, and after 7 hours gave himself up without firing a shot. He was captured wearing just his underwear to avoid the possibility that he had a suicide belt, and was ignominiously led away blindfolded by IDF soldiers. Another embarrassing defeat for Hamas. This is especially significant since with the Security Fence in Samaria reducing the effective access of suicide bombers, and with a greater success rate against the current wave of female suicide bombers (12 have been captured in the past month), Hebron, where there is no Security Fence yet, had become the chief center for terrorist activity. Gradually Israel is defeating and rolling back the terrorist threat. If only we could get our own house in order and implement the Disengagement Plan and avoid splitting the country that would be very nice.