Sharon budget vote win likely to make Gaza pullout easier

Jerusalem, March 30 | Updated: Mar 31 2005, 05:30am hrs
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon overcame the last legislative obstacle to his hard-fought plan for withdrawing from Gaza when parliament ratified the 2005 state budget on Tuesday.

Capping a year of political upheaval, the 58-36 vote dashed the last hope of pro-settler rightists of getting parliament to torpedo what would be Israel's first removal of settlements from occupied territory Palestinians want for a state.

But diehard settlers vowed to take to the streets and raised the specter of civil war over the withdrawal. Parliament had rejected a bill for a referendum on the pullout on Monday.

Mediators see the plan as a catalyst for negotiations on a US-devised peace road map to Palestinian statehood in Gaza and the West Bank, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and where Palestinians launched an uprising in 2000.

Diplomatic prospects have been brightened by a ceasefire that has taken root since moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was elected in January, succeeding the late Yasser Arafat.

With great persistence, (Sharon) is changing Middle East reality, Israeli vice prime minister Ehud Olmert said after the vote. I am far from saying this plan will bring peace and quiet ..., but it creates a chance, it creates hope. Sharon's Disengagement Plan entails uprooting 21 Jewish enclaves in Gaza and four of 120 settlements in the West Bank starting in late July.