Israeli parliament approves withdrawal from Gaza; settlers take to streets |

Israeli parliament approves withdrawal from Gaza; settlers take to streets

Associate Press

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won a historic victory Tuesday when parliament voted to approve his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank – the first time lawmakers have authorized the removal of Jewish settlements from lands the Palestinians claim for a state.

The 67-45 vote, with seven abstentions, gave strong backing to Sharon’s plan to evacuate 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, where 8,200 Jewish settlers live amid 1.3 million Palestinians, and four in the West Bank.

“I think that the prime minister of Israel had a great victory tonight,” Vice Premier Ehud Olmert told CNN.

Sharon won with the help of dovish opposition parties. Many members of his center-right coalition, as well as religious opposition parties, voted against him.

Sharon had hoped a strong victory such as the one he secured Tuesday would allow him to fend off settlers’ calls for a national referendum on the plan – something the prime minister has denounced as a delaying tactic by his opponents.

However, immediately after the vote four key Likud ministers who had voted in favor demanded Sharon call a referendum or said they would resign from the government.

Sharon’s victory came a day after he surprised both detractors and supporters by giving a speech accusing settlers of suffering from a “messianic complex” and telling Palestinians that Israel has no desire to rule over them.

The victory appeared to signal a final break between the settlers and Sharon, who spent most of his career championing their cause.

Thousands of Jewish settlers demonstrated outside the Knesset, or parliament, in a boisterous show of force Tuesday, denouncing Sharon as a traitor.

Posters outside the Knesset declared that “Sharon has disengaged from reality” and “the evacuation of settlements is a victory for terror.”