sharon alone in knesset.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Avoiding the controversy of his aborted ministerial appointments, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's address at the opening of the Knesset's winter session on Tuesday focused on regional politics.
While making a renewed call for a return to the road map, he called on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle terror groups and pledged his commitment to the construction of the separation fence.
"Israel will continue to protect itself and hurt the terrorists," said Sharon. "We have no choice. We will continue to build the security fence with no political, practical, or budgetary problems."
"There is no way around the demand on the Palestinians to carry out their obligation to dismantle the terror groups," he said.
Sharon praised the UN for standing against extremist countries like Iran and Syria that threatened the region.
"The call of the president of Iran saying he wants to wipe out Israel from the map expresses what many in the region want but are afraid to say aloud," Sharon said. "Their murderous intentions are expressed daily in terror attacks like the ones we saw in the past week. The dispatchers of terrorists from Iran and Damascus, from Gaza and Jenin, from Tulkarm and from Kabatiya, from Hebron and Bethlehem, do not need reasons or excuses, only an opportunity."
During his speech, Sharon also turned to domestic issues, mentioning a new plan to fight poverty that he intends to launch alongside Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres and acting Finance Minister Ehud Olmert.
While Sharon spoke about the plan, a Shas MK interrupted his speech by asking whether or not Sharon thought his government would be around long enough to carry it out.
"Don't you worry about it," Sharon answered, drawing a laugh from the plenum. "Not only will I begin in this government, but I will carry on in the next."
Not everyone seemed so certain about Sharon's ability to hold together the government, however. In his opening speech, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin cast serious doubt on Sharon's hold on the government.
"It does not matter whether elections are held in the winter or spring," said Rivlin. "They will hover over everything that is undertaken in the Knesset."
Speaking after Sharon, opposition leader Yosef Lapid (Shinui), issued a strong statement against Sharon. "With all due respect to Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, they head parties that are unworthy of leading the country," he said.
During the session, the Knesset also voted down three no-confidence measures, the first from Shinui over the general performance of the government, the second from National Union over the government's role in the disengagement, and the final one from Meretz over social, political and financial issues.
It appeared, however, that those three measures would not be the last, as many MKs pointed out that Sharon could delay the vote, but not the impending storm it would create.
"When a prime minister cannot pass the vote on [the appointment of] two ministers, that is a sign that his party is coming apart, the Likud is coming apart," said Minister-without-Portfolio Haim Ramon (Labor).
"It means we need to go to early elections," he said.
AP contributed to this report.