Finance Minister Netanyahu resigns in protest of pullout
Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced his resignation from the government Sunday afternoon in protest of Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
His resignation, which came during a Sunday cabinet meeting to approve the first step of the evacuations, did not succeed in torpedoing the vote. It was easily passed 17-5.
Netanyahu will hold a press conference Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. to explain the reasons for his resignation.
The resignation will take effect within 48 hours of the time that he placed a resignation letter on the prime minister's desk, Sunday afternoon shortly before 4:00 p.m.
Netanyahu, a former prime minister and political hardliner, has long been conflicted over the Gaza withdrawal. He has voted in favor of the pullout in the cabinet, but tried to thwart the plan in parliamentary maneuvers.
Netanyahu's dramatic decision was unlikely to affect the disengagement. However, a number of Likud rebels expressed their hopes that Netanyahu's move will prompt a wave of additional resignations, which would ultimately lead to the government's collapse, Channel 1 noted.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that the evacuation of settlements would continue as planned, Israel Radio reported.
The finance minister is considered Sharon's biggest political rival within the ruling Likud Party. He was expected to challenge Sharon for party leadership ahead of the next election.
The Tel Aviv stock Exchange's Maof index dropped 2.5 percent in six minutes following news of the resignation. Netanyahu had led efforts to streamline the Israeli economy, often adopting harsh measures in implementing his plan.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Limor Livnat announced she would vote against the first evacuation of settlements because of Sharon's decision to hold the second vote on settlement evacuations before the first settlement evacuation is completed.