JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) new government survived its first test Wednesday, with parliament voting in favor of his 2005 state budget.
Rebels in Sharon's Likud Party (search) supported the spending plan in the first of three required votes but threatened to oppose the plan in the future, threatening to topple Sharon and delaying his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip (search).
The budget was approved 64-53.
The 13 rebels, who oppose the withdrawal, had threatened to vote against Sharon's budget. Failure to pass the budget in three votes by March 31 would cause the government to collapse, endangering the Gaza pullout plan, set to begin in July.
The rebels want Sharon to hold a nationwide referendum on the withdrawal plan. After a meeting, they agreed to support his budget in Wednesday's vote — but threatened to withhold their support in the future without a referendum.
"It was decided unanimously to support the budget until the second and third readings," said Yehiel Hazan, a leader of the hard-liners. "We call on the prime minister to reconsider holding a referendum."
Sharon has so far refused to hold a referendum, calling it a stalling tactic by his opponents.