Netanyahu quits over Israel's pullout plan

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Finance Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has resigned from the cabinet Sunday to protest against the upcoming Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank according to a ministry spokesman.

Netanyahu submitted a resignation letter to Ariel Sharon that he said counts as his vote against the pullout plan. He also told reporters, "I understand the ambition to leave Gaza. I can't be part of a move that I believe is wrong, a move that will endanger security and divide the people."

Sharon pushed for the pullout within his highly split Likud Party, which in a recent 17 to 5 vote, approved the evacuation plan. The Israeli Army will assist in evacuation efforts of the first group of settlers in Netzarim, Kfar Darom, and Morag.

Sharon named the Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the new finance minister.

The forced evacuations, or "disengagement", of settlers is due to start after August 15. There are nearly 8,500 Jewish residents who live within fortified fences in Gaza. The settlements are surrounded by an Arab Palestinian population of approximately 1.5 million.

In a Sunday news conference, Netanyahu said the current evacuation plan has similarities to the 1993 Oslo Accords. In that accord, Netanyahu had drawn criticism in his role as Prime Minister for what some say was a failure to adequately insure Israeli security. The Palestinians gained more autonomy over some parts of the occupied territories in the accords.

Netanyahu said of the Gaza withdrawal, the Palestinian leadership is again being rewarded without concession.

The resignation is seen as a step by Netanyahu towards challenging Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party once the pullout is over. Netanyahu may have an opportunity to win back the party by placing himself in the national camp.

Netanyahu was one of the most vocal in claiming Saddam was preparing "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and he repeatedly urged America to invade Iraq on that basis.