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Two hardliners fired from sharon cabinet { June 4 2004 }

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Two hard-liners fired from Sharon Cabinet
Friday, June 04, 2004
Mark Lavie
Associated Press

Jerusalem - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided Thursday to fire two hard-line government ministers, officials said, a move that would give him a slim Cabinet majority for his Gaza withdrawal plan.

The officials said Sharon called the two ministers of the far-right National Union Party, Avigdor Lieberman and Benny Elon, to his office Friday to deliver the dismissal notices. They would take effect in 48 hours, before the crucial Cabinet session Sunday.

Cabinet minister Tsipi Livni, working on a compromise, said the prime minister rejected her latest proposal late Thursday, but that she was still trying. In the past, negotiations to avert dismissals and resignations have continued until just before they were to take effect, and often crises have been averted at the 11th hour.

Earlier Thursday, Sharon pledged to bring his pullout plan to a Cabinet vote on Sunday even though he has no guarantee it will pass.

At the moment, 12 Cabinet ministers oppose the plan and 11 support it. Sharon would create a one-vote majority by firing Lieberman and Elon. Another pro- settler faction, the National Religious Party, has threatened to quit if Sharon dismissed the National Union.

NRP leader Effie Eitam called Sharon's concept of removing settlements "a terrible, immoral, bitter thing."

Hawkish members of Sharon's Likud Party would be uncomfortable to the point of rebellion, fur ther endangering the continuation of Sharon's government and raising the prospect of a snap election within months.

Throughout the day Thursday, Cabinet ministers tried to work out a compromise to prevent a coalition crisis, but Sharon was adamant.

"I intend to honor my commitment to bring the decision to the Cabinet this Sunday," he said.

Sharon's proposal is a pullout from all of Gaza and from four small settlements in the West Bank, over four stages, by the end of next year. Sharon, up to now the main mover behind set tlement construction, has said there is no future for 7,500 Jewish settlers among 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Sharon does not hide his underlying goal - to trade the 21 small Gaza settlements for control of the main settlement blocs in the West Bank, where most of the 230,000 Jewish settlers live.

President Bush endorsed the pullout plan in a meeting with Sharon in April, adding support for Israel in key elements of the dispute with the Palestinians, including backing for Israel's holding onto some settlement blocs in the West Bank.

2004 The Plain Dealer.

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