Sharon survives volley of no confidence votes

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon survived five no-confidence votes on Monday but emerged politically bruised after a spat with colleagues over plans to pull back Jewish settlements in Gaza.

None of the five opposition motions on Monday secured the 61 votes required to bring down his right-wing coalition in the 120-seat Knesset or parliament.

But Sharon raised the ire of key political allies by backing the unilateral evacuation of 17 of Israel’s 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip if the US-backed “road map” for peace in the Middle East became permanently derailed.

The peace plan guarantees the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

Some 7,500 Jewish settlers live in the Gaza Strip, an area populated by 1.3 million Palestinians. Over 200,000 settlers live in the West Bank, home to some two million Palestinians.

The Shas party’s no confidence vote lost by a margin of 46-49.

The no-confidence motion submitted by the Labour and United Torah Judaism parties regarded “the damage to health services for residents and young couples in the periphery” won 45 votes, with 52 voting against.

The Balad, Meretz and Ra’am parties’ no-confidence motion on “the demolition of houses in Kfar Bana and other places” and the “policy regarding the Arab population and the need to find a solution for the land crisis and housing in the Arab sector” lost 44-56.

The Hadash-Ta’al motion on “the demolition of houses in Kfar Bana and other places” was defeated 44-57.

The One Nation motion regarded “the sharp rise in unemployment reaching a new level, especially among women and new immigrants” lost 45-53.

Meanwhile, Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom yesterday said Mr Sharon would visit Washington this month to seek approval for the Gaza withdrawal.

Mr Shalom will meet Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw today to discuss ways to kickstart peace discussions.