Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky
has left the Israeli government rather than take part in the
withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Sharansky tendered his
resignation Monday, accusing the Sharon government of failing
to demand Palestinian reform as a prerequisite to peace
"As you know, I have opposed the disengagement plan from the
beginning, on the grounds that I believe any concessions in
the peace process must be linked to democratic reforms within
Palestinian society," Sharansky wrote in an open letter to
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"I no longer feel that I can faithfully serve in a government
whose central policy — indeed, sole raison d'etre
— has become one to which I am so adamantly opposed,"
Sharon, who lost two right-wing coalition partners and a
Cabinet member from his own Likud Party last year over the
plan to withdraw from Gaza and the northern West Bank this
summer, took Sharansky's walkout in stride. He voiced regret
at the decision and thanked Sharansky for "combating
antisemitism the world over."
In quitting the Cabinet Sharansky is effectively outside of
Israeli politics, because he does not hold a Knesset seat.
Sharansky already was absent from Monday's Cabinet meeting,
where former colleagues commended his resignation as an act
In a long letter that he made public explaining his move,
Sharansky wrote, "As you know, I have opposed the
disengagement plan from the beginning on the grounds that I
believe any concessions in the peace process must be linked
to democratic reforms within Palestinian society. Not only
does the disengagement plan ignore such reforms, it will in
fact weaken the prospects for building a free Palestinian
society and at the same time strengthen the forces of
"Will our departure from Gaza encourage building a society
where freedom of speech is protected, where independent
courts protect individual rights, and where free markets
enable Palestinians to build an independent economic life
beyond government control? Will our departure from Gaza end
incitement in the Palestinian media or hate-filled
indoctrination in Palestinian schools? Will our departure
from Gaza result in the dismantling of terror groups or the
dismantling of the refugee camps in which four generations of
Palestinians have lived in miserable conditions?
"Clearly, the answer to all these questions is no."
Despite polls showing that most Israelis support the Gaza
plan, it has deepened rancor in the right-wing of Israeli
society to the point where some officials fear there may be
major civil strife. Concern for the Jewish state's internal
harmony was another motivation cited in Sharansky's
"We are heading toward a terrible rift in the nation, and to
my great chagrin I feel that the government is making no
serious effort to prevent it," he wrote.
However no one feels that serious conflict is inevitable at
this point. If the agreement on a mass move to Nitzanim takes
effect, it may defuse a lot of the opposition.
Sharansky was jailed in the Soviet Union in 1977 on charges
of spying for the United States. He spent a decade in Soviet
prisons before international pressure forced the Soviet
government to allow him to leave.
He recently published a book, The Case for Democracy,
which is a best seller. US President Bush and US Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice publicly praised the book. It argues
that democracy as a political system is crucial to building a
stable, modern society, and that there is no alternative. US
President Bush has hailed it as validating his policies in