Netanyahu Quits Government Over Disengagement

Finance Minister: Unilateral pullout under fire with nothing in return is not the way to achieve peace and security.

Yossi Verter Haaretz Service
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Yossi Verter Haaretz Service

In a dramatic step following the cabinet ratification of the first phase of the disengagement plan, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his resignation from the government Sunday, citing his opposition to the pullout.

"We have reached the moment of truth today," Netanyahu wrote in a letter he placed on the cabinet table before abruptly leaving the ministers' weekly session. "There is a way to achieve peace and security, but a unilateral withdrawal under fire and with nothing in return is certainly not the way."

The Sunday government decision states that, upon assessment of the situation, there is no reason to change the decision about the evacuation of settlements the cabinet approved in February.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the cabinet that the disengagement would be implemented on time, and that he was "not concerned over those who vote against."

Netanyahu has often criticized the disengagement, but had resisted right-wing calls that he resign from the government to force a crisis over the issue.

Speaking at a press conference Sunday evening, Netanyahu said he was conflicted over his decision to resign, hoping to continue what he called "historic" economic reforms but feeling he could no longer lend his support to next week's Gaza pullout.

He told reporters that the Gaza pullout is endangering Israel by creating a "base for Islamic terror" in Gaza. He said such warnings by security officials were being ignored by the government.

He said the pullout not only endangers Israel, but is also splitting the country and threatens the unity of Jerusalem.

Netanyahu acknowledged that his resignation was unlikely to halt the withdrawal. He complained that the government was acting with "complete blindness."

"I cannot stop this [the pullout], but I can be at peace with myself. I can say that I cannot be a party to this," said Netanyahu, who served as finance minister for the past two-and-a-half years.

"This isn't the government that I joined. The disengagement contradicts the Likud's principles and the mandate we were given. The government is acting blindly against all of the warnings," he said.

Bolstered by the votes of the Labor Party, the cabinet gave the green light to evacuation of the first group of settlements in the Gaza Strip, in line with a prior decision requiring formal ratification of each phase of the disengagement plan.

The vote was 17-5, with Likud cabinet ministers Limor Livnat, Danny Naveh, Yisrael Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi joining Netanyahu in opposition.

"I am not prepared to be a partner to a move which ignores reality, and proceeds blindly toward turning [the Gaza Strip] into a base for Islamic terrorism which will threaten the state," Netanyahu wrote in the letter whose text was obtained by Israel Radio.

Netanyahu called the disengagement "an irresponsible step which will endanger Israel's security, split the people, institute the principle of return to the 1967 borders, and in the future, endanger Jerusalem as well."

Isolated settlements first to be evacuated The settlements in the first phase are the isolated enclaves of Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Morag. Next week, just before the beginning of implementation of the disengagement, the government is expected to approve evacuation of the Gush Katif region, with ratification of the northern Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank enclaves to follow.

Earlier on Sunday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz slammed Netanyahu for the finance minister's expected 'No' vote against the evacuation.

Scoring Netanyahu for "zig-zagging" on the issue, Mofaz said "You cannot dither in the wind every morning anew and say 'My opinion's changed and now it's different.'"

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