What next for Sharon?

Real Clear Politics directs our attention to two pieces about the rejection by Likud voters of Ariel Sharon’s proposal to withdraw from Gaza. In one, William Safire tries to imagine what Sharon is now thinking. Safire has Sharon consider no fewer than six options before opting for negotiating a new, less aggressive disengagement plan with the cabinet, while proceeding full speed on the fence. Similarly, Eric Fettman, in the New York Post predicts that “Sharon, convinced he’s on the right course, will now essentially ignore the referendum and press ahead anyway. But, to protect his political flank, he will be forced to modify it – in ways that might undercut both its effectiveness and its wider popular support.”
Meanwhile, this Washington Times editorial notes that Sharon has already vowed to “forge ahead with a modified version of his plan to unilaterally withdraw from some of the settlements he had proposed to leave in the referendum.” The Times, which favors this course (as do Safire and Fettman) notes that Sharon “faces a difficult challenge: crafting a new disengagement plan in which Israel withdraws from a smaller number of settlements (thus mollifying some on his right) without alienating Washington by limiting the scope of an Israeli pullback.” The Times also notes that “an unnamed State Department official” is now suggesting that Sharon somehow “played” the U.S. in connection with the referendum. In reality the anti-Israel elements in Foggy Bottom are trying to play Sharon into proposing a new plan that differs little, or not at all, from the old one. But Sharon appears to be in a strong position with respect to President Bush and, as the Times points out, perhaps a stronger position with his party than the referendum (in which only about six percent of Likud voters participated) would suggest.
UPDATE: Israel’s Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Ehud Olmert has told the Jerusalem Post that “there is no such thing as a mini-disengagement plan, and the original one will pass in the cabinet within weeks and become official policy.” Opposition leader Shimon Peres, who has spoken with Sharon, also claims that Sharon intends to push his original plan through the cabinet soon, despite Sunday’s Likud referendum defeat.

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