Referendum Might Give Way to New Elections

A national referendum on the disengagement issue seems out of the question – now that PM Sharon is said to prefer new elections rather than give in to a Knesset law calling for a plebiscite.

, | updated: 10:22 AM

Labor Party elements, too, said they would choose new elections over giving in to "the extreme right-wing" and participate in a referendum.

The Likud Central Committee voted overwhelmingly last night to act in the Knesset to promote a referendum on the disengagement/withdrawal/expulsion. The only ones voting against were Prime Minister Sharon himself, a handful of ministers and MKs, and several others.

Click here for a report on the Likud debate.

Following the vote, Likud MK Michael Eitan, head of the Knesset Law Committee, said he would very soon submit a referendum bill to the Knesset. At the same time, pro-referendum forces within the Likud and Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) are continuing their efforts to convince the Shas Party to support a referendum.

As Sharon's aides continually emphasize, without Shas there is no majority in the Knesset for a referendum, no matter how many Likud MKs vote in favor. Shas leader MK Eli Yishai said this morning that the issue is a very complex one, and it will have to be decided by the Torah giants – Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and the Gerrer Rebbe.

The hareidi-religious parties, while objecting to the disengagement in principle, fear that if a referendum is held on this issue, it could be held in the future on other topics, such as the deferral of army service for yeshiva students. However, an agreement in principle obtained in the past stipulates that the referendum bill will state that plebiscites will be held only on issues of withdrawing from parts of the Land of Israel.

The Prime Minister was not greatly moved by the Likud vote. For one thing, his supporters note that only 828 Likud members showed up last night, less than the 1/3 required to give legal status to the Central Committee's votes. In addition, Sharon remains outwardly confident that Shas will not support the referendum. His staffers say that even if Shas changes its mind and votes in favor, he will call new elections rather than go to a referendum.

Sharon has support from the Labor Party on this score. Communications Minister Dalia Itzik, the former Labor faction Knesset whip, said last night that if a referendum is called, her party will quit the coalition, all but forcing new elections.

The main speakers at the Likud event last night were Sharon, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, and former Minister Uzi Landau.