Sharon’s party votes against establishment of Palestinian state; PA: vote ''a real slap in the face'' for Bush
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud party voted early Monday to reject the creation of a Palestinian state, a major defeat for Sharon that he feared would increase international pressure on Israel and tie his hands in potential negotiations.
Sharon had strongly opposed the resolution on an eventual Palestinian state and had tried to prevent the vote, but his attempts were rejected and the Likud Central Committee overwhelmingly approved the proposal by a show of hands.
Though the party body does not have the power to remove Sharon from office, the vote showed his political weakness in his own camp, which could limit his effectiveness and provided a sign for his future leadership of the party ahead of the next election, scheduled for November 2003.
Behind the confrontation with Sharon was ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu, who has declared his intentions to challenge Sharon for party leadership and eventually, prime minister.
Only a handful of delegates voted against the Netanyahu-backed resolution, which read, "No Palestinian state will be created west of the Jordan (River)," referring to the area including the West Bank, Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Opposition to a Palestinian state has been the traditional position of the Likud, but Sharon has said that under stringent conditions, he would agree to the establishment of such a state, at one point calling it "inevitable."
The vote against the creation of a Palestinian state amounts to a "destruction" of the Oslo autonomy accords, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said.
"This is a destruction of the Oslo agreements, and specially Wye River, which was done by both (former prime minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and Sharon," he told reporters Monday on his departure from Ramallah to visit Bethlehem.
For his part, Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the vote "unmasked many things. This just shows that the war being waged by Israel against the Palestinians is not a war against what they call terror, it's really their war to maintain the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza."
He told The Associated Press that the vote was "a real slap in the face" for President Bush, who has spoken in favor of setting up a Palestinian state.
The US government had no immediate official reaction to the Likud’s vote, but a senior administration official pointed out that US President George W. Bush has repeatedly endorsed the idea. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that Bush has declared a strong, secure Palestinian state as an important goal of the US-sponsored peace process.
Instead of the measure opposing a Palestinian state, Sharon asked the convention to ok a resolution backing his government in its attempts for peace and security. In a secret ballot, delegates voted against Sharon's proposal by a margin of 59 to 41 percent, a harsh defeat for Sharon.
Looking defiant but uncomfortable, Sharon took the podium and made a brief declaration after losing the vote on his resolution. He said he would honor the decisions of his party's central committee, but added, "I will continue to lead the state of Israel and the people of Israel according to the same ideas that led me always — security for the state of Israel and its citizens and our desire for real peace."
Netanyahu said the vote showed how the Likud party activists view peacemaking. "In the midst of a terror campaign run by (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat, they don't want to envision a terrorist state which would threaten the destruction of Israel." (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)