Sharon rejects call for referendum
* Israel’s security cabinet approves settler compensation
JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday rejected a call from Benjamin Netanyahu, his main rival in the Likud party, to put his Gaza withdrawal plan to a referendum and vowed to carry it out on schedule.
Responding to Netanyahu’s surprise challenge, Sharon told Israeli dailies that a nationwide referendum “is not on the agenda” because such a move would delay his plan to remove 21 Gaza settlements and four West Bank enclaves by the end of 2005.
“The disengagement plan will be carried out according to schedule,” Sharon told the Haaretz newspaper.
Netanyahu’s proposal for a referendum, coming right after an angry rally by 70,000 opponents of the Gaza plan, was widely seen as as an attempt to slow implementation of any withdrawal.
In an apparent swipe at Netanyahu, Sharon said: “If a minister thinks we are on the verge of an explosion, he should do what he can to prevent it, so nobody will conceive of thinking he can change a cabinet decision by such threats.”
Opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis favour withdrawing from Gaza’s hard-to-defend settlements.
Sharon is determined to stick to his timetable for bringing the settler compensation law to his full cabinet in coming weeks and seek parliament’s preliminary approval by Nov 3, political sources said.
Meanwhile Israel’s security cabinet on approved a compensation package for Jewish settlers to be uprooted under a plan to withdraw from occupied Gaza and part of the West Bank in 2005, political sources said.
Prime Minister Sharon and coalition ministers involved in security issues voted 9-1 for the system of payouts to more than 8,000 settlers. Some have said they would leave early if compensated while others vow to resist evacuation.
The one dissenting vote was cast by a minister from the pro-settler National Religious Party.
Sharon intends to submit the bill, a crucial step towards implementing his plan for “disengagement” from conflict with the Palestinians, to his full centre-right cabinet within weeks and to the Knesset (parliament) by November 3. The security cabinet vote was part of accelerated preparations for withdrawal driven by Sharon against rightist rivals trying to stall the process with street protests and calls for a referendum.
According to a draft of the bill leaked to Israeli media earlier, each Jewish settler family would receive a government payout of between $200,000 and $500,000, with advance payments amounting to a third of the total.
Final sums due each family would depend on how many years they lived in their enclaves and be in line with the higher cost of housing in Israeli cities and towns.
Sharon lost his ruling majority in June when some pro-settler rightist ministers defected in protest at the withdrawal plan, but he has kept it afloat with backing from the main opposition Labour party. reuters