Likud: Sharon was Jeered, Netanyahu was Applauded

The main speakers at last night's overwhelming Likud party vote for a referendum were PM Sharon, Finance Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Shalom, and former Minister Uzi Landau.

, | updated: 10:33 AM

The Likud party voted overwhelmingly last night to support a Knesset initiative for a referendum on Sharon's plan to quit Gaza and northern Samaria and uproot the Jewish residents from their homes.

First to speak was Landau (pictured above), the leader of the anti-disengagement camp within the Likud: "The old Sharon would have fought for a referendum. I refuse to believe that our Prime Minister will not ratify that which Arik Sharon fought for... The debate is not for or against the disengagement, but rather over another step in the struggle for democracy and Likud unity."

Netanyahu, the leading contender to succeed Sharon as head of the party, was greeted with warm applause. He admitted that the Likud had betrayed its voters: "Let's come and tell the truth: We went to elections last time with a different banner."

Netanyahu further said that any issue of territorial withdrawal should be put up for national vote. He said that he even considered doing so before implementing the Wye Agreement [which was in fact never implemented – ed.], even though it involved no uprooting of Jews from their homes.

"This process is very very very difficult," the Finance Minister stated. "You take a child and remove him from his house. You take his father and grandfather and remove them... You take life and uproot.... The only way to do such a dramatic act, such a difficult act, is by going to the public and letting it decide."

Netanyahu called upon the disengagement opponents to withdraw their threat to vote against the budget.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, a long-time supporter of a referendum and a lukewarm opponent of the disengagement itself, said, "I'm not calling for a referendum against the prime minister, but rather for unity in the nation and in the Likud." He said the entire referendum need take no longer than 60 days, and that Shas could be persuaded to support the idea.

Last to speak was Prime Minister Sharon, who was roundly booed almost throughout the speech. Many in the audience called upon him to resign, and others held up signs reading, "Sharon, go home!"

Sharon did not show weakness, however. He said that he has never given in to threats and does not plan to begin now: "Whoever visits in the Knesset cannot help but see the pressure exerted on the MKs and sense the atmosphere of threats... The government and Knesset have made decisions, and these decisions will be implemented."

He spoke empathetically of the Gush Katif and northern Shomron residents, in keeping with his new strategy: "In every generation, there was always a small group that led the way. In the past generation, you have led by establishing a tremendous settlement enterprise... I feel your pain."

Sharon related to those who object to his plan – i.e., the overwhelming majority of his party, as evidenced by last night's vote – as "fringe extremist elements." He said more than once last night, "I will not allow the extremist margins to dictate our path."

The prime minister also scolded the Likud MKs who are threatening to vote against the budget. He said that it was the right-wing that brought down previous Likud governments headed by Yitzchak Shamir and Binyamin Netanyahu, and that a vote against the budget would accomplish the same thing. Some in the audience cheered at this prospect.