From Ha'aretz: In the first, potentially the decisive, formal hurdle for the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to end the Israeli presence in the whole of the Gaza Strip by next year, the members of his Likud party are to vote on the plan in a referendum to be held Sunday. With the vote only days away, the polling numbers themselves may prove historically significant. They may determine whether the prime minister, who has seen a strong majority in opinion surveys dwindle over the past week, will opt to put in play one or another of the Doomsday cards he has thus far kept face down on the political table. "If the margin is less than six or seven percent in the weekend polls, then Sharon must be very, very concerned," says Haaretz commentator Yossi Verter. Even in the short time remaining, a margin of no more than seven percent can be erased through organizational work, where the settlers have a decided advantage in campaign resources, he says. Organization - on short notice, and on a national scale - is the acknowledged forte of the settlers' disciplined, well-financed, energetic and experienced Yesha Council, by far Israel's most potent lobbying force. The settlers shocked all of Israel - themselves included - with the success Tuesday of an Independence Day mass anti-withdrawal protest in the southern Gaza Gush Katif settlement bloc, a hastily organized event that drew tens of thousands. The protest could not be said to have attracted a cross-section of Israelis, as the crowd was overwhelmingly Orthodox in composition. But organizers said that they hoped the momentum generated by the event would translate into a groundswell of fresh opposition to the Sharon plan, enough to bury the initiative in its first large-scale test in the Sunday referendum.


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