Sharon made last-minute efforts
to secure support for the plan
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet approved the plan after a six-hour stormy session with 12 votes in favour, seven against and four abstentions.

 

But Palestinian officials argued that a qualified acceptance of the plan was not sufficient.

 

"The Israeli approval with reservations is not enough", said Nabil Abu Rudaina, Yasser Arafat's adviser.

 

Palestinian officials have accepted the plan unconditionally.

 

The cabinet followed its approval of the "road map" with the passage of a second resolution denying Palestinian refugees their right of return.

 

The cabinet approval came two days after Sharon gave his qualified acceptance of the plan in exchange for an American commitment to address Israeli reservations.

 

But Palestinian Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, said the most important thing was for Israel to implement the "road map" in its entirety. "Israel has to stop collective punishment and settlement expansion," he said, after the Israeli vote.

 

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, however, said Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas would hold talks with Sharon on Monday, following Israeli approval of the "road map".

 

The "road map" calls on the Palestinians to rein in resistance groups that carry out military operations against Israeli targets. It also calls on Israel to dismantle a number of Jewish settlements.

 

Israeli opposition

 

In securing his cabinet's approval for the plan, Israeli prime minister came up against opposition from far-right ministers and some members of his own Likud party.

 

Gideon Saar, chief whip of the Likud, opposed the “road map”, describing it as the “most dangerous document” in the history of Middle East peacemaking.

 

In addition to the Likud, four parties have portfolios in the cabinet, including the moderate Shinui and two right-wing blocs, the National Union (NU) and the National Religious Party (NRP).

 

Before the meeting, Sharon met ministers from his Likud Party making last-minute attempts to win the backing of extremists for the vote.

 

The Cabinet was not voting on the “road map” itself, but on whether to accept the plan and the government's reservations on it, Sharon adviser, Raanan Gissin, said on Sunday morning. 

 

Time to divide

 

By approving the "road map", the Israeli government has acknowledged the establishment of a Palestinian state. The plan says that a state for the Palestinians should be set up by 2005.

 

In the run up to the crucial cabinet meeting, Sharon spelt out his mind to strike a deal with the Palestinians in comments published in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday.

 

"The time has come to divide this piece of land between us and the Palestinians," Sharon said.

 

"No one is going to teach me about the strips of land that we will be asked to leave, I am no less connected to them from those who are speaking from up high," Sharon was quoted in Yediot Ahronoth as saying.

 

Sharon is known for promoting the expansion policy of Jewish settlements. 

 

 "But you have to be realistic about what we can and cannot

continue to hold," he added.