Jerusalem, Nov. 6 (Reuters): Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Israel’s new foreign minister today, with plans to challenge Ariel Sharon as Israel’s leader with a get-tough policy towards the Palestinians.
The 53-year-old Right-winger, popularly known as “Bibi”, took the standard parliamentary oath a day after Prime Minister Sharon called an early election in the wake of the Centre-Left Labour Party’s defection from his coalition. Netanyahu replaces Shimon Peres, who quit along with five other Labour ministers last week in a dispute over funding for Jewish settlements on occupied land.
By taking the foreign portfolio in the minority government, Netanyahu returns to a political stage he largely abandoned after Labour’s Ehud Barak ousted him as Prime Minister in 1999.
Before the nationwide vote, Israel’s two main parties — Sharon’s Right-wing Likud and Labour — will hold leadership elections. Netanyahu said he would challenge Sharon for the Likud leadership in a party primary. Palestinians voiced concern that Sharon’s decision to hold elections nine months ahead of schedule would stir more turmoil in West Asia.