Preventing a potential parliamentary crisis, the Knesset on Wednesday approved the first reading of the 2005 budget bill after members of the Likud Party against the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank decided to support the measure. The bill passed 64-53. Sources close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that had the bill been rejected, Sharon would call new elections. The second and third readings are in March.
The budget vote was the first test for Sharon’s new unity government with the Labor Party. Sharon was to meet Thursday with the Shas Knesset faction leader in an effort to include the fervently Orthodox party in the coalition. If Shas joins, Sharon could carry out the planned Gaza disengagement while still being able to pass the budget bill.