Netanyahu Resigns from Government

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced his sudden resignation from the government this afternoon, citing the disengagement plan as dangerous and harmful to the State of Israel.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 15:19

"We have reached the moment of truth," Netanyahu informed the Cabinet in a letter he left on the Cabinet table after his dramatic announcement this afternoon. "There is a way of reaching peace and security, but unilateral withdrawal - under terrorist fire, and with nothing in return - is not the way to do this. Withdrawing from Gaza will turn that area into a terror base that will endanger the country."

Netanyahu further wrote that the disengagement is a "move that splits the nation, and will endanger Jerusalem in the future."

The outgoing Finance Minister will convene a press conference at 6 PM.

Less than a half-hour after the surprise announcement, the Cabinet voted by a 17-5 margin to approve the first stage of the disengagement. The three communities that are to be destroyed, according to the decision, are Kfar Darom, Netzarim and Morag.

The five ministers who voted against were Netanyahu, Naveh, Katz, HaNegbi and Livnat. Education Minister Limor Livnat announced her plans earlier today, after she asked PM Sharon if he plans to present the second stage of the expulsion prior to the implementation of the entire plan. He did not promise to do so, and Livnat then said that this was against previous government decisions - according to which all stages must be approved by the Cabinet before the actual expulsion/withdrawal begins. She therefore announced she would vote against.

The other ministers who voted against have not yet reacted to Netanyahu's announcement, thus that the question of whether they will follow suit and resign as well remains open.

Knesset Member Yuval Shteinitz (Likud), who half-heartedly supports the disengagement plan, said today, "I hope that Netanyahu will be the next Prime Minister of Israel." He said that it's Sharon's fault that Netanyahu had resigned, because of his "disrespect for the Likud referendum, his refusal to hold a nationwide referendum, his willingness to abandon the Philadelphi Route to Egypt..."

Among disengagement opponents, Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said that Netanyahu's move was a "courageous" one, but MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) was not impressed. "He will not succeed in saving even himself, let alone Gush Katif," Eldad said today.

MK Uri Ariel called on the other Likud ministers who oppose the expulsion plan to resign as well.

Minister Dalia Itzik of Labor said that she noted that Netanyahu's mood was "different" during the last couple of days, and that she had commented on this to her party colleagues. She had a sharp question for Netanyahu: "You gave away Hevron, yet Gush Katif you are not willing to cede under any circumstances?!"

The specification of the three towns Morag, Kfar Darom and Netzarim does not mean that they will be the first to be destroyed. Fifteen other towns in Gush Katif are also slated for destruction, and the government has already announced that it will proceed from north to south in razing them. Four communities in northern Samaria are also threatened with destruction, but no order has been announced for such.

A government decision of several months ago determined that the expulsion would not begin before the day of fasting and mourning of Tisha B'Av, which falls next Sunday.

The entry of the left-wing Labor Party into the government seven months ago has virtually assured Prime Minister Sharon of a majority on all disengagement-related votes.

Dozens of people protested outside Netanyahu's home in Jerusalem last night, demanding his resignation from what they called the "expulsion/transfer government." Participants lambasted Netanyahu's "double message" approach - characterized by his statements and votes against the disengagement, while at the same time not taking concrete steps to stop it. They said that this approach would not help him in the upcoming Likud party elections for party leader. "We're Not in Your Pocket," according to signs held at the demonstration.