It is the start of an important political week for Israel’s prime minister with parliament due to discuss his controversial Gaza pullout plan. The debate begins today in the Knesset with a vote due tomorrow. Widely expected to get his proposals passed, Ariel Sharon has already received a boost – winning cabinet approval for a bill compensating settlers forced to leave their homes and punishing those who refuse.
Under the plan, all 21 Gaza settlements would be dismantled. Four in the West Bank would also go. Those affected have mounted a vigorous campaign to oppose the pullout, despite polls showing most Israelis back the move. And settlers are not the only stumbling block for the premier. Although his proposals are set to be backed in parliament by the left-wing opposition, they have divided his Likud party and his government. If the vote were to go against him, it could spell the end of both the pullout plan and Ariel Sharon’s administration.