Likud to Vote for Referendum Tonight

The Likud Central Committee is expected to support a referendum on the disengagement tonight. If Shas then follows suit, it will be up to the populace to decide whether Gush Katif remains Israeli.

, | updated: 10:24 AM

As in the past, the party's Central Committee does not side with Prime Minister Sharon, who has strongly opposed a referendum ever since the idea was broached a year ago. It is not yet clear, however, if Sharon will ignore the Committee's decision, as he has done in the past.

The resolution that is likely to pass states that the Likud faction must work to pass a referendum bill in the Knesset. Prime Minister Sharon is trying to minimize the significance of tonight's vote, saying that in any event there is no majority for such an idea in the Knesset.

The supporters, however, say that the margin of support lies with the Shas Party – and that it is likely that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef will change his mind when he realizes that the entire disengagement is dependent on him. Many anti-withdrawal elements have been in touch with Shas in recent days, and exude a measure of optimism on this score.

Shas is strongly opposed to a unilateral withdrawal from Gush Katif and northern Shomron, but has long opposed a referendum. The party fears that the same tool might be used in the future on issues such as draft deferrals by yeshiva students.

Shas' parallel party in the Ashkenazi hareidi-religious sector, United Torah Judaism, similarly opposes the withdrawal – and supports a referendum as well. The party obtained an agreement in principle, that may or may not still be valid, that a referendum bill will state that a vote of this nature will be held only on issues of withdrawing from parts of the Land of Israel.

In the Likud, 27 of the 40 MKs have already signed their support for a referendum. They are hoping that tonight's vote will initiate a momentum that will pull along not only the remaining 13 MKs – or at least all those other than Ariel Sharon, Omri Sharon and Ehud Olmert – but Shas as well.

The Likud session will be held at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds, beginning at 4:30 PM. Among the speakers will be Prime Minister Sharon, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.