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December 1st, 2004 - 1:33 pm

Political shakeup in Israel:

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sacked his main coalition partner on Wednesday after a humiliating parliamentary defeat that left him scrambling to avoid early elections and save his Gaza withdrawal plan.

In a twin political drama across the Middle East divide, jailed West Bank leader Marwan Barghouthi decided to run in a Palestinian presidential election and Hamas militants vowed to boycott the vote to choose a successor for Yasser Arafat.

Sharon dismissed the Shinui party shortly after it defied him by voting against the 2005 state budget in a first reading in parliament, and aides said he would immediately approach the center-left Labour Party to prevent his government’s collapse.

This is probably good news for Sharon’s plan to pull out of Gaza, but bad news for Sharon personally. Shinui was probably already on its way out over the Gaza plan – and Labor is far more likely to support it.

However, they’ll be able to wrangle concessions out of Sharon, who is already hurting from today’s news.

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