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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ariel Sharon's Government on the Brink

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition faced possible collapse Wednesday as a budget vote was likely to force him to remake his government or call elections that would imperil his Gaza withdrawal plan.

Parliament was to convene Wednesday afternoon for a first reading of the 2005 state budget, which is opposed by Sharon's main coalition partner, the Shinui party. He has said he will sack Shinui if it defies him.

To avert elections two years ahead of schedule and an indefinite delay to his plan for "disengaging" from conflict with Palestinians, Sharon would have to replace Shinui with the Labor Party and maybe a religious party.

Analysts said Sharon, who would hold only 40 seats in the 120-seat parliament without Shinui, wanted to wrap up a deal with Labor by Monday to avoid the risk of being toppled by a possible no-confidence vote over the economy.

The government must pass the budget by March 31 or resign. The budget process has stumbled on opposition from left-wing and religious parties to steep cutbacks in social spending.

Having Labor on board would solidify majorities for the budget and Sharon's plan to remove Jewish settlements from some occupied land. But Likud rebels bent on scuttling his Gaza plan oppose such a "unity coalition."

However, Sharon, a former general known as the "Bulldozer," voiced confidence he would prevail despite the coalition muddle.