The Israeli Government voted to accept the Road Map plan today, recognizing a Palestinian state for the first time. Twelve ministers voted for the plan: Five from the Shinui party, and seven Likud ministers: Ariel Sharon, Sha'ul Mofaz, Silvan Shalom, Meir Sheetrit, Tzippy Livny, Gideon Ezra, and Ehud Olmert.
Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu, Tzachi HaNegbi, Limor Livnat, and Danny Naveh - all of the Likud - abstained.
Seven ministers opposed the plan: Uzi Landau and Yisrael Katz (Likud); Effie Eitam and Zevulun Orlev (NRP); Benny Elon and Avigdor Lieberman (National Union); and Natan Sharansky (Likud-Yisrael B'Aliyah).
The Cabinet meeting lasted close to six hours, and was very stormy at times. Each minister was given a chance to speak. The exact wording of the approved resolution reads as follows:
"The Government of Israel announces that it approves the declaration of the Prime Minister [see item 3 below] regarding the acceptance of the steps included in the Road Map, and resolves that the implementation of the plan will take place contingent upon the 14 comments that Israel submitted to the Americans."
The Cabinet also voted 16-1 that it would not accept the Arabs' claimed "right of return." Only Minister Benny Elon voted against it, explaining that the resolution rules out the return of Arab refugees to the State of Israel - but not to Judea and Samaria. Elon has long said that an influx of millions of Arabs to Yesha would be a tremendous demographic danger to Israel.
Under the banner, "The Road Map is Worse than Oslo," the Yesha Council, Women in Green, and Jewish Leadership organized protests opposite the Prime Minister's Office this morning. Yesha leaders say that a Palestinian state will be a calamity for Israel, and demanded that the Road Map be voted down.
The Likud Party ministers were strongly divided this morning, and Prime Minister Sharon met with them before the Cabinet meeting today. The main threat that Sharon hung over the ministers' heads was that a rejection of the Road Map would lead to a crisis between Jerusalem and the White House. He further tried to convince the ministers to support the plan by noting a "direct connection between Israel's sorry economic state and the security situation."
Mr. Sharon is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority leader Abu Mazen tomorrow, for the second time.