Israel’s finance minister has quit in protest at prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plans to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank moments before a cabinet vote to approve the measures. Benjamin Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the pull-out and had already threatened to leave the government last year. In his resignation letter the former Prime Minister said, “I cannot be part of this irresponsible move that divides the people and harms Israel and will in the future pose a danger for the wholeness of Jerusalem.” The Israeli cabinet convened without Netanyahu and gave final approval to remove a first group of Jewish settlers from Gaza.
The 55-year-old is widely expected to challenge Sharon’s leadership at some point after the pull-out and will most probably garner support among opponents of the withdrawal. The dismantling of the Jewish outposts is due to start next week and protests by the settlers have grown steadily. Though many of the settlers agree they will not be able to prevent the pull-out they are said to want to make the process as difficult as possible.