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Gaza Disengagement Plan: Knesset Rejects Referendum On Disengagement

(March 28, 2005)

The Knesset voted 72-39 against a bill authorizing a referendum on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, clearing a major hurdle on the road to disengagement.

Despite heavy pressure to back the referendum, Shas's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef decided to stick to his original position against the idea of a referendum.

A rejection of the first reading of the bill gives Sharon the last political victory necessary to advance his plan, after making a deal with Shinui for the passage of the 2005 budget that removed the Knesset dissolution threat. The budget is to be put to a vote Tuesday night.

The key to the passage of the bill, therefore, was support from the Likud faction. But no factional voting discipline was in place on Likud MKs, despite a decision by the party to support a referendum.

Only a regular majority of MKs was needed to pass the bill, but since it would have been a basic law any change to it would have required the support of 61 MKs. According to the bill, the referendum would have been decided by a majority of those who vote.

Haredi rabbis fear a referendum law could be amended and serve as a platform for deciding issues of state and religion.

Sources: Jerusalem Post, (March 28, 2005)