Minister Sharansky Resigns Over Expulsion Plan

Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky quit his post Monday in opposition to the proposed government plan to expel the residents of Jewish Gaza and northern Shomron.

, | updated: 11:44

Hear an exclusive Arutz-7 English radio interview with Minister Sharansky in which he explains why he is quitting the government.

Sharansky submitted his resignation in a lengthy letter to the Prime Minister’s Bureau, as Sharon was on his way to a Cabinet meeting early Monday morning. Sharansky later said that he had informed Sharon of his intention to quit a few weeks ago.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Sharansky noted that he opposed the disengagement plan from the outset. He added that the government is making no effort at all to prevent a split in the nation, and that he cannot continue serving in a government whose sole focus is the advancement of a plan he strongly opposes.

He explained that his objections to the plan stem from his "deep belief that every Israeli concession in the peace process must be made contingent upon democratic reforms on the Palestinian side. The disengagement plan does not meet this fundamental condition. On the contrary: The plan will lower the chances for the establishment of a free Palestinian society, and will even provide terrorist elements with a supportive wind."

MK Effie Eitam (Religious Zionist Renewal Party, Hit'chabrut) was pleased with Sharansky's resignation, saying it "constitutes a major moral victory for the anti-disengagement camp.”

“Sharansky has become a global symbol in the struggle for human rights, human liberty and the advancement of democracy,” he said.

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said that the resignation of the Diaspora Affairs Minister this morning “is a badge of honor for one who has a Zionist morality and a political backbone... Anyone who stays in the government while remaining opposed to the disengagement, apparently has no Zionist morality and no backbone.”

MK Ehud Yatom (Likud) said that the resignation of Minister Natan Sharansky “will give new momentum to the struggle against the disengagement that has merited to be strengthened by a worthy and uncompromising leadership... Sharansky is the kind of politician whose honesty and decency overcome his interest” in maintaining his seat in government.

MK Roman Bronfman (Yachad/Meretz), a former political ally of Sharansky, said that the resignation "reveals Sharansky's true face as someone who has turned from being a civil rights activist in the Soviet regime to a war-monger. He never represented the new immigrants, but rather the settlers and their life-works."

"Now, too, we must continue to do everything - within the framework of the law - to prevent the disengagement," Sharansky told Arutz-7 today.

Asked why he was resigning only now, he said that until now there were attempts within the government and Knesset to stop the plan, but when these failed, he decided to resign.

"The fundamental principle of the disengagement plan," Sharansky wrote in his resignation letter, "is based on the illusion that we can disengage from Gaza and that it will [no longer] pursue us, in accordance with the famous saying, 'Them there, us here.' Again and again, we make the same painful mistake, and again and again we fail to understand that the key to forging a stable and lasting peace in the Middle East lies in encouraging and supporting democratization in our region."

"I see the disengagement as a tragic error that will worsen and deepen the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, increase terrorism, and distance us from the chance of reaching true peace," Sharansky wrote.

The former refusenik compares his perception of global affairs to that of President Bush, who is trying to introduce democratic reforms to the Arab world. "My ideas are accepted in the United States and around the world," Sharansky said. "Only in Israel they're not... The lack of an Israeli demand for reforms in the PA turns the disengagement plan into a historic miss."

Prime Minister Sharon praised the outgoing minister during Monday's government session, saying he would have been glad to see Sharansky continue in his post.

"I want to thank him and praise his work in the matters he was tasked with," Sharon said. "He did an exceptional job in advancing the matter of fighting anti-Semitism around the world. He is a pleasant man to work with, and he had great achievements."

Sharon did not fire Sharansky, as he did other expulsion opponents - namely, Uzi Landau, Benny Elon, and Avigdor Lieberman. Political commentators suggest that Sharansky was allowed to remain in the government because he is highly admired by U.S. President George W. Bush.

After he was named a government minister following the last election, Sharansky immediately resigned his Knesset seat so that another member of his party could join the Knesset in his place. Now that he has ceded his ministerial post, Sharansky is unemployed. The party he headed, Yisrael B'Aliyah, won only two Knesset seats in the last election, and joined the Likud almost immediately afterwards.

Sharansky is a former Prisoner of Zion, having spent nine years in a Soviet prison for fighting for the rights of Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. He is the third government minister, following Effie Eitam and Zevulun Orlev, to resign from the government in protest of the withdrawal plan.

Natan Sharansky is a highly regarded political thinker. His recent best-selling book, “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,” was publicly praised by President Bush. Sharansky was even invited to the White House to discuss the book.

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