Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Finance Minister Binyamin Natanyahu Resigns To Protest Gaza Withdrawal; Blasts Sharon in Speech

On August 8, Israeli Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (right), an influential member of the right-wing Likud Party, resigned his post to protest the Gaza disengagement plan, which will commence on Monday, August 15 and last for two days until all 9,000 radical Jewish settlers are forced to leave 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu, a former Israeli prime minister (1996-1999), announced his resignation minutes before the Cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, current head of Likud, voted to continue the disengagement as scheduled.

Netanyahu, a well-known Israeli hardliner, has been a strong critic of Sharon's disengagement plan, arguing that it is a reward for Palestinian terrorism rather than the possible key to new peace talks. In his letter of resignation, Netanyahu said, "I cannot be a part of this irresponsible move that divides the people and harms Israel's security and will in the future pose a danfer for the wholeness of Jerusalem. A unilateral withdrawal without anything in return [from the Palestinians] is not the way [to peace.]"

For more information, albeit biased, on Binyamin Netanyahu from his supporters, see:

Sharon (left), who reacted coldly to the latest political moves of his rival Netanyahu, who most analysts believe is preparing to openly challenge the prime minister for the leadership of Likud before the next Israeli national elections, has said that the disengagement will continue as planned. In the end, 17 Cabinet ministers voted to begin the disengagement this Monday, with 5 ministers opposing the plan.

Netanyahu, a former member of one of Israel's elite commando units, earned a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master's degree in management studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also studied political science at MIT and Harvard University.

During the First Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991, Netanyahu, who is fluent and as comfortable in English as he is in Modern Hebrew, served as a spokesman for the Israeli government, then led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a former LEHI terrorist.

When he was prime minister, Netanyahu was plagued by allegations of corruption, which were later dropped, and, under intense pressure from the U.S. administration of President William J. Clinton, he relented on his belief that trading "land for peace" was not they key to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This would not be the last time that Netanyahu would take a strong stance on an issue before quietly reversing himself. During the latest debate over the Gaza disengagement, he publicly opposed the plan, but voted for it anyway when it was first introduced.

Today, Netanyahu delivered a fiery speech at the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, presenting himself as an alternative Likud leader and lambasting Sharon's decision to leave Gaza and force out its Jewish settlers (left), some of the most radical and fundamentlist in the country. "The ones who really understand what I am saying are the [Palestinian] terrorists," he said. "And they are cheering because we [Israel] are letting them set up an independent terrorist base [in Gaza.]"

Sharon responded in kind in a television interview, calling Netanyahu's resignation "an act of fleeing." Perhaps Israel's greatest general and one of its most controversial leaders, Sharon said of Netanyahu's departure, "He backed the disengagement plan once or twice. One thing I can say: Quitting a week before the most complex, most difficult move in the State of Israel's history, the disengagement plan, I would not say this evasion warrants a medal of honor."

A recent poll conducted by the Israeli newspaper Maariv, suggests that, if a national election was held today, Netanyahu would decisively defeat Sharon, 42.1% to 27.7%, for the leadership of Likud. In a poll conducted by Ha'aretz, Israel's premier daily newspaper, Netanyahu would garner 35% of the vote to Sharon's 29%.

For more information on Binyamin Netanyahu's resignation from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government, see:

Netanyahu's decision was praised by Israeli and Jewish hardliners throughout the world. The World Zionist Organization (WZO), in a press release, said it "praised [him] for his decision to leave the Sharon government in order to make clear his opposition to the Gaza withdrawal/expulsion plan. Netanyahu proclaimed this misguided Plan “will strengthen the forces of terror...will allow the Palestinians to open a sea port that will be open to terror boats...will bring rockets to Judea and Samaria...endanger the security of Israel, divide the Nation...and will create an Islamic terror base...and is against that mandate received from our voters.” In his press conference, Netanyahu criticized the Bush/Condoleezza Rice demand for Israel to give guns and ammunition to Palestinian Authority saying, “we are once again talking about giving them guns, it is unbelievable...the Plan strengthens Hamas and it leads them to eventually reach Jerusalem.” The WZO also called Sharon's plan a danger to "the West."

To read the complete press release from the World Zionist Organization on Binyamin Netanyahu's resignation, see:

The disengagement, which is set to begin in less than one week, will evacuate all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and from four West Bank settlements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (right) and other senior members of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have pledged to ensure an orderly Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The two largest Palestinian militant organizations, al-Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, better known as HAMAS ("The Islamic Resistance Movement"), and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have hinted in recent weeks that they will not interfere either.

On Tuesday, Shaykh Jamal al-Bawatna, a PNA-appointed Palestinian mufti (senior cleric) in the Ramallah District, issued a religion legal opinion (fatwa) that forbids any Muslim from committing an act that would prevent the Israeli withdrawal: "Anyone who causes the delay of the withdrawal of the occupation, or prolongs its existence on Islamic soil, is committing a crime according to Islamic law." The fatwa goes on to say, "Mahmoud Abbas is the elected president ... and there is a religious obligation to obey his orders. Disobeying is an attempt to weaken his authority, which is considered a severe sin according to all the parameters of Islamic law."

For more information on Shaykh al-Bawatna's legal opinion, see:

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