Israeli foreign minister to quit

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The Independent Online
The Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, announced last night that he was resigning. He said the five MPs of his Gesher party would vote against Benjamin Netanyahu's government on the 1998 budget.

Mr Levy said he would resign immediately after the Gesher five voted against the budget. This left open a slim possibility that Mr Netanyahu might yield at the last minute to the foreign minister's pressure. Officials in the Prime Minister's office claimed, however, that the financial cost would be too high.

"This is a government which is on a flight to nowhere," Mr Levy said. The foreign minister's brother, Maxim Levy, Gesher's parliamentary whip, insisted they were not bluffing

If Gesher joins the opposition, it would reduce Mr Netanyahu's majority to a maximum of six in the Knesset. But a handful of opponents of the Oslo agreement in the Prime Minister's own Likud are also threatening to withhold support. Failure to pass the budget would precipitate elections.

Gesher projects itself as the champion of the underprivileged Israelis of Afro-Asian origin. Mr Levy had demanded that the government invest in a recovery programme for the depressed areas. Mr Netanyahu turned him down.

Mr Levy is the government's most outspoken supporter of West Bank withdrawals. His departure would tilt the balance to the right and highlight the question mark against Mr Netanyahu's capacity to push through the "generous" evacuation that both the Americans and Palestinians are demanding.