Having finally won approval for the disengagement plan the
Sharon Government has survived the Gaza crisis but clearly
the countdown has begun, for in its current composition the
government cannot last for long.
According to Livni's compromise plan the issue of evacuating
the settlements from the Gaza Strip will not come before the
government for another six months. In the meantime the
necessary preparations will be made, including legislation
and compensation payment proceedings. Sharon has gained time,
but not much. When the issue of evacuating settlements is
brought for a vote, this government will have reached the end
of the line.
Last week Omry Sharon conducted intensive meetings with UTJ
and Shas MKs to assess the chances they would support the
disengagement plan when it is brought before the Knesset for
approval. Omry Sharon made various promises to rectify
injustices in funding for religious services and chareidi
education, but nothing has been finalized.
Sharon and his staff are taking into account that 15-20 Likud
members, or even a few more, will vote against the plan or
abstain. To that number are added the 13 MKs from the NRP and
HaIchud HaLeumi. If the 16 UTJ and Shas MKs vote against it
the number of opponents could reach 50. If another ten MKs
from the left decide to vote against the plan Sharon will not
have a majority, and even if he does secure a majority of
votes he would still lack a majority of the Knesset. Sharon
wants a solid majority of at least 61 so he need not rely on
Arab MKs and if possible, not on Meretz MKs either.
This is why Omry Sharon initiated contact with UTJ and Shas.
The chareidi MKs told him that at this stage there's no
chance they would back the Prime Minister when he brings the
plan to the Knesset and at most they would abstain.
Nevertheless talks are continuing and Omry Sharon is holding
onto valuable political prizes with which to reward chareidi
MKs for their cooperation.
Plenum Dressed in Sackcloth
Three weeks ago the chareidi MKs took a far-reaching step
when they held a demonstration during the plenum, totally
disrupting the proceedings. Never in the 16th Knesset have so
many MKs been escorted out of the plenary hall one after
another within such a short period of time. The drastic move
was driven by heartfelt sympathy for the plight of the unpaid
religious council workers and the constant assaults on
chareidi educational institutions and the Torah world in
general. They pledged that would not be the last of such
actions if solutions were not found quickly.
In practice, no further demonstrations have taken place.
Before stepping up the battle once again the chareidi MKs
want to try to make every possible effort to bring about a
peaceable solution to the religious council workers'
Prime Minister's Office Director-General Ilan Cohen, who took
over the job just one month ago, asked for some time to study
the issue, promising to make every effort to solve the
problem. Finance Committee Chairman Avraham Hirshzon also
entered the fray, summoning the Finance and Interior
Ministers for an urgent meeting.
Asking the chareidi MKs to consider carefully before taking
extreme steps once again, Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin
tried to exert his influence to bring about a solution to the
problem. In a departure from the normal Knesset routine he
also raised the issue of the religious council workers for a
special discussion with the Prime Minister on hand.
In light of all these moves the chareidi MKs agreed to grant
a hiatus, but they repeatedly warn time is running out.
At a gathering of chareidi MKs before Shavuos a series of
proposals were raised to bring the situation to the media's
attention until the government realizes that the thousands of
hungry families cannot hold out any longer. The suggestions
ranged from denying Sharon access to the Prime Minister's
Office--including the possibility of a confrontation with
security personnel--to chaining themselves to the gates of
the Prime Minister's Office; from blocking streets together
with the Chief Rabbi to organizing large demonstrations where
rabbonim and religious council workers from across the
country would be on hand.
And at a more recent gathering chareidi MKs proposed entering
the plenary hall dressed in sackcloth to arouse the public to
the dire situation and focus the media spotlight on the
scandalous assault on religious services.