Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli public radio on Tuesday Sharon was confident he would secure a majority needed to apply the plan.

"The aim of this plan is clear, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has spoken of it on many occasions: it will be applicable in four or five months, that is in June or July," he said.

Sharon has warned that unless the US-backed "road map", aimed at ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, makes progress, he will implement the plan which includes removing a small number of Jewish settlements, while strengthening control over others.

"Mr Sharon envisages territorial exchanges with the Palestinians as part of future permanent arrangements, under which Arab Israeli localities would pass under the sovereignty of the latter, while Jewish settlements (in the West Bank) would be integrated into Israeli territory," Sharon's chief spokesman Ranaan Gissin told reporters.

On Monday, the hardline premier stunned Jewish settlers and members of his own party after he said that he had ordered plans to be drawn up for the removal of all settlements in the occupied Gaza Strip.

Under international law Jewish settlements are illegal, a stance not recognised by Israel.

Sharon said he had "given an order to plan for the evacuation" of all 17 settlements in the Gaza Strip with a total population of 7500.

"It is my intention to carry out an evacuation - sorry, a relocation - of settlements that cause us problems and of places that we will not hold onto anyway in a final settlement, like the Gaza settlements," said Sharon.

"I am working on the assumption that in the future there will be no Jews in Gaza."

Sharon, who was long regarded as the settlers' champion, said that he needed to "look ahead, not backwards" and was prepared for any confrontation with his traditional right-wing supporters.

"It's complicated, there is already a second generation of settlers there, and they have children, and there are thousands of dunums of hothouses, packing plants, schools, factories, thousands of residents there, I know them closely, but I will look them in the eye," said Sharon.

New government?

Sharon has also vowed to form a new Israeli government if his coalition partners try to block the plan to dismantle settlements.

Demonstrators rallied against
Sharon's plan last month 

Sharon made the comments to national newspapers on Tuesday.

On Monday he won a confidence vote in parliament by just a single vote when hard-right allies staged a walkout.

"I will not hesitate to set up another government," he told Israel's Yedioth Aharonoth.

"Not that I am rushing to take such a step, but I have no intention of being at the mercy of factions... that won't permit me to handle matters of state."

A cabinet minister from the rightist National Religious Party responded to the plan on Tuesday with a threat to resign.

In related news, Sharon is considering redrawing Israel's border to place parts of Israel's Palestinian population under Palestinian control in a final peace deal, said a senior Israeli official.

The official stressed that any such move would have to be accepted by Palestinians with Israeli citizenships and come only as part of a final treaty with the Palestinians.