Netanyahu, Livnat Threaten to Quit Unless Poll Held on Pullout

Ministers, NRP give Sharon 14 days to decide on referendum on pullout plan; Olmert: This is an unfair and dishonorable maneuver.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Limor Livnat both threatened on Tuesday evening to quit unless Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to hold a referendum on a pullout from Gaza.

They said that Likud ministers Yisrael Katz and Dan Naveh would also quit if a decision is not made on the poll within 14 days.

The announcement came minutes after the Knesset approved Sharon's disengagement plan.

"We ... have decided to give the prime minister two weeks to announce a referendum, and if not, we will not be able to see ourselves as staying in this government," Netanyahu told reporters in parliament, minutes after legislators approved Sharon's Gaza withdrawal plan.

Netanyahu told reporters that the group of ministers does not want to topple anyone, but only wants to give a chance to unity within the Likud party. Livnat reaffirmed what no one in the group wants to topple Sharon, and added that she only hopes the prime minister will accept the plea for a referendum, which is shared by most Likud MKs.

"I believe that the prime minister will go for a referendum and we can all do the right thing, if not, we have to say enough, is enough," Livnat said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Trade and Industry Minister Ehud Olmert called the threats "an unfair and dishonorable maneuver."

Ealier Tuesday, Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) announced that his party would quit the government, unless Sharon decides to hold a referendum on his disengagement plan. The NRP also gave Sharon 14 days to make a decision on the nationwide poll.

Orlev's announcement came after he met with Netanyahu and Livnat to work out a deal to keep the NRP in the government. The NRP's six MKs all voted against the plan on Tuesday evening.

Orlev told reporters that he had assured Sharon that the party would remain in the coalition until the next general elections (currently set for 2006), whatever the results of the referendum.

The Yesha Council of Settlements also signed the NRP's pledge.