Netanyahu Resigns over Gaza Pullout

In Depth

As Israeli authorities prepare to withdraw settlers from Gaza, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigns in protest. But the former prime minister concedes he can't stop the pullout. Many Israelis are expected to join settlers in resisting.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In Israel, the cabinet has agreed to start the withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza next week, and that plan is going ahead despite the surprise resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister Ariel Sharon's finance minister. Netanyahu is also Sharon's chief rival for the leadership of the right-wing Likud Party. He declared that he would not be part of a decision that he says will endanger the security of Israel. NPR's Mike Shuster joins us from Jerusalem where he's covering the withdrawal and this resignation.

And, Mike, what's been the reaction to Netanyahu's move?

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Well, on the right wing, the move has largely been welcomed. One right-wing newspaper today headlined the story about it New Hope. Some on the right hope that Netanyahu will now lead the movement against what the Israelis are calling disengagement or the pullout from Gaza.

Netanyahu has been known to oppose the Gaza pullout for many months. He said he's against the unilateralism of it; that Israel gets nothing in return for it. So many here have derided the timing of this decision saying he should have done it months ago, and even some on the right have said it comes a little too late to have any real effect on the pullout.

Mostly there's been a lot of criticism in the press today of Netanyahu for playing politics with the timing of this, because many feel he is positioning himself for a challenge to Ariel Sharon's leadership of the Likud and hoping for possible early elections.

INSKEEP: Well, even as he announced his resignation he said, `I cannot stop this,' meaning the withdrawal from Gaza, and it looks like he's not going to stop it.

SHUSTER: No, it looks like he's not going to stop it, and many people here, most people here don't think that he can.

INSKEEP: So how's the withdrawal going to take place?

SHUSTER: Well, it's going to start a week from today and, according to the decision by Sharon's cabinet yesterday, it will start with three isolated settlements in central Gaza. Next Monday, the Israeli army will distribute orders to all the settlers in Gaza; that is, to the 8,000 Jewish settlers who live there. They'll be given two days to leave voluntarily and the government expects more than half of them to do that. Today the government announced that more than a thousand of the 1,700 eligible families in the settlements have applied for government compensation. This is thousands of dollars that they can get if they decide to leave voluntarily. On August 17th, two days later, the police and the army will begin removing those who haven't left. The Israeli cabinet will then meet again to take a vote on a stage two of this, removing the bulk of the settlers in the area known as Gush Katif. Later on, there'll be a third and a fourth stage as well, and it all could take about several weeks.

INSKEEP: Have protesters against this move in Israel, Mike, come to think that this may be inevitable? That it will happen?

SHUSTER: I think a lot of protesters do think it will be inevitable; nevertheless, they're continuing their protests. They have announced plans to continue protesting this week now with the focus on the Jewish holy site, the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem, culminating in a planned mass rally they say they want this coming Friday. They're also planning a mass rally in Tel Aviv for Thursday evening. In addition, there are believed to be more than a thousand resisters who've infiltrated into the Gaza settlements to back up those settlers who don't want to leave. So there's a feeling here, Steve, that tension is likely to build over the coming days.

INSKEEP: And how have Palestinians in Gaza been behaving as they prepare for this withdrawal?

SHUSTER: There's a lot of tension in Gaza. I was in Gaza on Friday and Saturday and it just feels like there's a lot of chaos in Gaza. There is tension among various armed groups, both criminal and political. Over the weekend, the group Fatah, which is part of the Palestinian Authority, took over two buildings to challenge the local police who had arrested a Fatah leader. There's no real control by the Palestinian Authority or its police in Gaza. Judges went on strike last Friday because several bombs had been thrown at their houses, and they were criticizing the Palestinian Authority for not protecting them. The Palestinian Authority says it's mounting a force of some 50,000 police to keep order during this, but there's a lot of skepticism about how orderly it's going to be on the Palestinian side.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks, Mike. We'll continue listening for your reporting as the withdrawal nears.

That's NPR's Mike Shuster in Jerusalem.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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