Jerusalem, Nov. 1 (Reuters): Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met his rival in the right-wing Likud party, Benjamin Netanyahu, today and offered him the post of foreign minister, an Israeli diplomatic source said.
The source said that during the talks at Sharon’s ranch in southern Israel Netanyahu had asked for a follow-up meeting on Sunday .
Netanyahu, a former Prime Minister who has accused Sharon of not employing tough enough tactics against a Palestinian uprising, was being considered for the post after the Labour Party pulled out of Sharon’s government earlier this week.
“The talks lasted for 90 minutes and it was an excellent meeting,” the Israeli source said.
Sharon asked Netanyahu to join the government “on the basis of the guidelines of the current government and to work together on the challenges facing Israel”, the source said.
The guidelines of the government were hammered out by Sharon and centre-left Labour when the right-wing Prime Minister took office in March, 2001, and included a pledge not to build new Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon has been trying to cobble together a narrow majority for his government, which was left with 55 out of Parliament’s 120 seats after Labour’s departure. He was expected to court other right-wing and ultra-nationalist parties to fill the gap.
Netanyahu, 53, popularly known as “Bibi”, has said he will challenge Sharon in the yet to be scheduled Likud leadership election, a goal that could stop him accepting the foreign ministry post.
He might accept Sharon’s offer, but only on condition that they reach a deal on Netanyahu’s next move in domestic politics.
Palestinians have already expressed alarm at Sharon’s offer of the defence portfolio to former army chief Shaul Mofaz, who has advocated expelling Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Netanyahu has also called for Arafat’s ouster and if they both join the government, Sharon would probably be caught between their hawkish views and fierce US opposition to such a move.
Cabinet minister Danny Naveh said Sharon would begin formal talks on Sunday with prospective partners in a narrow government following the collapse of his broad coalition on Wednesday, when the Labour Party quit over funding for Jewish settlements.
Ultranationalists who oppose trading occupied land for peace and support unlimited Jewish settlement on territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war are among those Sharon will be courting.