Natan Sharansky Resigns from Israeli Cabinet
Natan Sharansky, a famous dissident from the Cold War era, resigned today from Israel’s cabinet in protests over its plan to give up the Occupied Territories.
Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, cited as an inspiration by President Bush for promoting democracy, resigned Monday to protest the planned Gaza withdrawal, which he called a “tragic mistake” that will encourage Palestinian violence and deepen the rift in Israeli society. Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who was minister for Diaspora Affairs and Jerusalem, served in Cabinets during the past nine years and repeatedly criticized Israeli prime ministers for what he said was their mishandling of negotiations with the Palestinians.
In his letter of resignation to Sharon, obtained by The Associated Press, Sharansky wrote that he opposes making unilateral concessions to the Palestinians. “As you know, I was opposed to the disengagement plan from the outset, on the basis of my deep belief that every concession in the peace process made by the Israeli side must be accompanied by democratic reform on the Palestinian side,” Sharansky wrote. He told Israel Army Radio that he considers the disengagement plan “a tragic mistake that exacts a high price and also encourages terror.”
Sharansky immigrated to Israel in 1986, after serving a decade in Soviet prisons. While celebrated abroad, he remained a relatively marginal figure in Israel. He never attracted a large political following and continues to speak in strongly accented Hebrew. By contrast, he won praise from Bush for his recent book “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.” A hero to world Jewry for his dissident activities in the 1970s, he was included on Time magazine’s recent list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Bush, who invited Sharansky to the White House in November, has said Sharansky’s book summarizes his feelings about the need to spread democracy around the world.
My guess is that his resignation will have little impact. It’s interesting, though, how differently Sharansky is perceived in the U.S. and Israel.