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Israeli budget row threatens peace bid

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Thu 2 Dec 2004
Israeli budget row threatens peace bid

AN Israeli parliament vote against the state budget has triggered a political crisis that could topple Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government and scupper his plan to pull out of Gaza and part of the West Bank next year.

Mr Sharon himself brought the situation to a head last night, calling the first of three votes on the budget, knowing it would fail - giving him a chance to reshuffle his shaky minority coalition.

But it was a risky move, possibly leading to a general election, which would stall or kill the withdrawal.

With his government in tatters due to internal opposition to the pullout plan, Mr Sharon was unable to garner a majority in favour of the budget, losing 69-43.

If the government does not pass a budget by March 31, it must resign.

Mr Sharon’s main coalition partner, the secular rights Shinui Party, objected to the Prime Minister’s pledge of hundreds of millions of pounds Shinui’s arch-rivals, the Orthodox Jewish parties, to win their support.

Mr Sharon said he would dismiss Shinui from the government and invite the moderate Labour Party and at least one ultra-Orthodox Jewish party to replace it.

That would give Mr Sharon a parliamentary majority of about 66 of the 120 seats for the first time since the summer, when pro-settler parties quit the government in protest at the pullout plan.

Bringing Labour into his government would help sustain a majority for the pullout, but the budget fight would continue.

• Fathi Arafat, the brother of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and founder of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, has died. He was 67.

He died yesterday in Cairo, where he had been receiving treatment for stomach cancer.

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