Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressing the Knesset during the opening of its winter session, said that Israel considers the construction of the Separation Wall in the West Bank as a top priority.

In spite of all of the implications of the Separation Wall on the lives of the Palestinians, including thee uprooting their orchards and the only sources of livelihood to the Palestinians, and isolating them in their areas, Sharon said that Israel does not intend to harm the daily life of the Palestinians.

Sharon also said that Israel will continue its fight against the Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian resistance factions, and demanded the Palestinian Authority to dismantle the resistance factions before resuming the peace talks.

“We will continue our fight, every time and everywhere”, Sharon said, “Palestinian armed group are continuing to act against us, we will defend ourselves and strike these cells”.

Sharon also demanded the Palestinian Authority to disarm the resistance factions as a precondition to resume the peace talks.

Also, Sharon charged that Israel is also subjected to threats which he described as “region danger” referring to Iran, specifically on the statements of the Iranian Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadenijad regarding “wiping Israel of the map”.

Sharon stated that Israeli will “work in order to implement the Road Map Plan with the 14 reservations it presented to the United States.

Sharon stated that the government will have new priorities in its 2005 state budget; this includes a national plan to fight crime and violence in Israel, in addition to investing resources to solve the problems of poverty, in addition to developing the educational system in Israel and implementing a plan which aims to develop the Negev, the Galilee and what he described as the Greater Jerusalem.

The greater Jerusalem project includes expanding settlements around Jerusalem, and other plans such us linking Maali Adumim settlement with Jerusalem which will obstruct the geographical unity of the Palestinian areas, and further annexation of Palestinian lands east of the city.

The Israeli President, Moshe Katsav, told the Knesset that the “Israeli democracy faced several challenges during the evacuation of the Gaza strip settlements”.

Katsav also urged the army not to sanction the Yeshivas which urged the soldiers to refuse orders during the evacuation of settlements.

Israeli apposition leader Yosef Lapid from the Shinui party harshly attacked the ruling parties in Israel and their leaders.

“With all do respect to Sharon and Peres, they lead parties which are not worth of leading the government”, Lapid said, “The Intifada renewed, chances for peace are fading, poverty is deepening, and hilltop youth are continuing to construct illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank”.

Lapid also slammed the government for depending on opposition votes for passing its decisions”.

Sharon postponed earlier on Monday the Knesset votes on ministerial posts until next week. The vote posts for three of his key allies is likely to be tough, Israeli online daily Haaretz reported.

Sharon stressed that he will not change the “package deal” of presenting all three appointments in spite of the demands of the Likud rebels.

The three appointments at stake are Ehud Olmert the finance minister which will change his current position of an acting minister, Roni Bar-On as industry, trade and employment minister and Ze’ev Boim as immigrant absorption minister.

Likud rebels, who apposed him over the pullout plan, support the appointment of Olmert but do not support the other two.

Sharon needs his majority to get his appointments through; only 30 of 40 Likud members of Knesset are expected to support him in the voting.

The Sunday’s Likud gathering was boycotted by a third of Likud members, including the former finance minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.

MK Naomi Blumenthal, who is considered one of the 16-anti-disengagement Likud rebels, said on Monday mid-morning that she would vote against the appointments, the Israeli radio reported. At least nine other Likud MK’s may also do the same, including Netanyahu, David Levy, and Michael Ratzon.

Sharon is not expected to make any dramatic moves if the appointments fail to pass, but his government cannot continue to function if Likud MK’s do not support him.

If this scenario comes true, Sharon will need to consider various options, such as calling early elections, or forming his own party after quitting the Likud party.

The appointment of the three ministers will be presented by Sharon as a package deal, its either accepted or rejected, without any partialities.

Meanwhile, Sharon’s aides plan to devote Monday to attempting to persuade some of the Likud ‘rebels’ to support the appointments. His aides believe that Ministers Haim Katz and Gilad Erdan will ultimately support Sharon.

The associates of Sharon will also try to persuade a few opposition MKs to abstain or skip the vote, which will enable the appointments to pass with fewer than 61 votes.

Israeli online daily Haaretz reported that Likud rebels intend to meet on Monday, in order to decide how to vote before the Knesset begins to make a final decision on the vote.

Sharon, speaking to the Likud gathering on Sunday, said that the party needs to end the struggles inside it “in spite of the differences” and to unite.

“We have a great deal of work ahead”, Sharon said, “We need to end the quarrels, the struggles and the turmoil in order to change the current atmosphere in the Likud”.

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