JERUSALEM (Jan. 4)
The resignation of Israel’s foreign minister has cast uncertainty over the future of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
But Netanyahu says he will hang on even as the departure of David Levy and his Gesher faction leaves the premier’s coalition government with a thin 61-59 majority.
“The coalition is stable, there is a strong sense of responsibility among its members,” Netanyahu said at a news conference just hours after Levy announced his resignation Sunday.
Levy, who had threatened repeatedly over the past year to step down, said that he was “fed up” with the way the government was operating.
Levy singled out the government’s social policy, which he said clashed with his own outlook. He also criticized the Cabinet’s handling of peace negotiations, warning that “stonewalling” by the government could backfire to a point where a settlement with the Palestinians would be imposed upon Israel.
“There comes a time when one must stand up and make a clear, unequivocal statement,” said Levy. “I am fed up, and no longer consider myself part of this government.”
Netanyahu stressed at his news conference, without directly referring to Levy’s accusations, that the government had made social investment and development a priority.
Sources of funding had been found for the additional social spending Levy was seeking, “to prove that my promises are not just on paper alone,” Netanyahu said.
But in announcing his resignation, Levy said he had rejected a pledge for additional social spending because it had come too late.
Netanyahu put off a scheduled vote in the Knesset on the budget last week in the hope of securing support from Gesher.
The prime minister said he would present the budget to the Knesset on Monday for adoption and would then turn his attention to Cabinet approval of a plan for a further redeployment from the West Bank.
Netanyahu pointed out that previous Israeli governments had operated with only a one- vote majority in the Knesset and that he was confident his coalition would continue at least through 2000, the scheduled date for the next national elections — a response to calls in recent days by two of his ministers for early elections.
But given the opposition within the Cabinet to any further transfer of West Bank lands to the Palestinians, it appeared unlikely that Netanyahu would be able to secure approval for a further redeployment before he meets with President Clinton in Washington on Jan. 20.
The Clinton administration was assessing, in the wake of Levy’s resignation, whether a planned trip to the region by U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross would go ahead this week.
Netanyahu told his ministers Sunday that the Cabinet would discuss and decide the positions which he will present to Clinton.
Clinton also is slated to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Jan. 22.
Levy, the third minister to resign from Netanyahu’s 19-month-old government, strongly denied speculation that he made his decision after the Labor Party promised him a position of influence in another government.
“If there are new elections, Gesher will run as an independent party,” he said.
Netanyahu voiced hope that Levy would reconsider his resignation, which by law does not take effect for 48 hours.
The opposition Meretz faction, saying it was now clear that coalition members doubted the government, submitted a motion to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections.