Two ministers axed by Ariel Sharon today tried to dodge the Israeli prime minister’s couriers delivering the dismissal letters, prompting a flurry of exchanges to ensure the firings take effect before a vote Sunday on Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan.
The ministers, Avigdor Lieberman and Benyomin Elon of the hard-line National Union party, led the opposition to Sharon’s plan to withdraw troops and all settlements from the Gaza Strip, and several settlements from the West Bank.
The firings, which were all but predicted in a WND report Thursday, would give Sharon an 11-10 Cabinet majority for a Gaza withdrawal.
But first both ministers need to be found. According to Israeli law, the dismissals do not take effect until 48 hours after they have been received in person.
Lieberman was eventually tracked down at his gym, while Elon remains elusive.
If Elon cannot be tracked down before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, Sunday’s vote might have to be delayed. Sharon only has a Cabinet majority for the Gaza plan once the dismissals of Lieberman and Elon legally take effect.
Elon, speaking on Israel Radio from an “undisclosed location,” said he would do everything possible to evade Sharon’s delivery men. ‘
‘I will make every effort to make it difficult for the prime minister,” Elon said. ”He has not yet given me the letter and my dismissal has not yet taken effect.”
Israel’s Army Radio later reported Elon was spotted in the Netzarim settlement in the Gaza Strip, but his spokesperson refused to comment on the report.
Sharon’s office issued a statement today saying it does not intend to hire detectives to search for Elon, although Minister Ahmed Tibi suggested Sharon issue an arrest warrant. He said Elon was probably hiding in Gaza, and that Sharon “knows how to find someone if he really wants to.”
Elon announced he would not accept a phone notification since he could not be certain it was in fact the Prime Minister speaking to him and not “Yatzpan,” a popular Israeli comedian famous for his impersonations of politicians.
Sharon called Elon Friday to inform him of the dismissal, but, Elon said, “I told him that by law he cannot fire me over the phone.
“I got a call on my cellular phone, and the voice was similar to that of Arik Sharon. … I told him that I can’t be sure if it really is the prime minister or if it is Yatzpan on the other end of the line,” Elon said.
“I think it’s hilarious,” Moshe Frager, a Likud voter, said. “This nation needs some entertainment. Israel should put a bounty on him like Bin Laden, then maybe someone will turn him in.”
Dalia Medved, a Labor voter, said she thinks Elon “is being really immature. He’s stalling the democratic process and acting like an infant.”
The dismissals mark a major turning point for Sharon, once the largest builder of Israeli settlements. He is formally divorcing his traditional ultranationalist allies and moving more to the center, even at the risk of being drawn into early elections.