News and Information

Call for referendum on Gaza plan
September 13, 2004
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Finance Minister, has called for a national referendum on plans to withdraw Israeli settlements and troops from Gaza.
He strongly opposes the unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory planned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mr Netanyahu's call for a referendum came a day after tens of thousands of Jewish settlers staged an anti-withdrawal rally in central Jerusalem.

Mr Sharon says he is determined to go ahead with the proposal.

The withdrawal plan has been rejected twice by his ruling Likud party.

Mr Netanyahu is a former prime minister and the leading rival to Mr Sharon for the leadership of Likud.

"I hope that a nationwide referendum can be organised as quickly as possible to find out whether Israelis do or do not support the government's decision," Mr Netanyahu said.

"The results of this referendum will clearly indicate whether this decision is legitimate and it will allow a reduction in tensions and divisions at the heart of Israel," he said.

Settlers challenge Sharon

Polls have consistently shown that the prime minister's plan to withdraw from Gaza is backed by Israelis as a whole.

The settlers want to show they cannot be ignored
But on Sunday, settlers and their supporters took to the streets of Jerusalem in their thousands.

Many who had travelled to Jerusalem for the demonstration went to pray at the Western Wall before converging on Zion Square.

Most were Orthodox Jews and many were teenagers.

A massive banner strung up there read: "Disengagement is tearing the people apart".

The demonstration in Jerusalem came at a time of increasing political tension.

Amid fears of violence, Mr Sharon accused some right-wing opponents of trying to foment civil war. Opponents of the withdrawal plan have called on the army to disobey orders.

Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are considered illegal under international law and Israel has committed itself to freezing settlement activity under the international peace plan known as the roadmap.

About 8,000 Jews live in 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, alongside 1.3 million Palestinians.

Israel is planning to pull all its settlers from Gaza and the troops that protect them as part of a disengagement plan. Israel will maintain control of Gaza's borders, coastline and airspace. Four West Bank settlements are also to be evacuated.


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