On the same day that the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, voted 67-45 to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, the leader of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) denounced the plan as a maneuver to block and “bury the very idea” of an independent Palestinian state.

Issam Makhoul, CPI general secretary, said the Oct. 26 vote authorizes a plan that, if implemented, “will turn all of the Gaza Strip into one big prison camp, dominated on all sides from the air, sea and land by the Israeli army.” Instead of ending the 37-year occupation, the plan will allow Israel to intervene in Gaza anytime it likes and simultaneously “disclaim any responsibility as the occupying power for the daily conditions of life Palestinians in Gaza living under Israeli occupation.”

At the same time, Makhoul said, the plan will give Sharon the means to tighten Israel’s grip on the occupied West Bank, facilitate the creation of apartheid-like “bantustans” for Palestinians, win international support for the occupation, and even win approval of parts of the Israeli peace camp for his policies.

Sharon proposes to close 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza and evacuate 8,200 Jewish settlers in the summer of 2005. Settler families are to be compensated with packages ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 each. About 1.3 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip under conditions of extreme poverty.

Four small Jewish settlements, comprising a few hundred settlers, are also to be dismantled in the northern West Bank, although 240,000 Jewish settlers will remain there. The West Bank is a much larger and resource-rich territory.

The Knesset vote was preceded by 17 hours of acrimonious debate over the plan, with ultranationalists, the religious right, and nearly half of Sharon’s own Likud Party ultimately voting against it. Some accused Sharon of being a traitor for offering to “give up” even one inch of land.

Ironically, Sharon drew decisive support from his traditional opponents — the Labor Party and the more dovish parties, which cited the closing of any Gaza settlements as a positive development. Some peace activists shared this view.

For example, Gush Shalom, a predominantly Jewish peace group, called the Knesset vote “a great victory for the peace camp” and as a rejection of “the ideology of the settlers.” It called for holding Sharon to his promise about carrying out the withdrawal.

The parliamentary deputies of the Democratic Front from Peace and Equality, Hadash-Ta’al, which includes the CPI, decided to abstain rather than vote against Sharon’s plan. While they restated their opposition to the plan, they said they did not want to risk contributing to a right-wing parliamentary victory.

The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org.