Jerusalem, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Benjamin Netanyahu today made an early Israeli election his condition for accepting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s offer to be foreign minister in a narrow right-wing government.
Sources close to the hawkish Netanyahu, Sharon’s main rival in the right-wing Likud party, said the Prime Minister had yet to reply to the terms. “Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to serve as foreign minister in a government that will head to early elections,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued after he met Sharon at the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem residence.
Sharon offered Netanyahu the foreign ministry post on Friday, two days after the centre-left Labour Party pulled out of his ruling coalition in a dispute over funding for Jewish settlements on occupied land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Sharon has been trying to draw far-right parties into his shrunken government to regain a parliamentary majority shattered by Labour’s departure.
Under Netanyahu’s proposal, he would join a revamped government as foreign minister and Sharon would announce an early general election. By law, Sharon must hold a national ballot no later than October 2003.
Netanyahu’s terms appeared to leave open the possibility that he could still fulfil his pledge to challenge Sharon for the Likud leadership in the next election Israel holds.
“(Netanyahu) returned to the principle he stood by two years ago — that no government can function in this (Parliament) or achieve anything,” Netanyahu aide Gabi Piker told Army Radio.
“He suggested that the Prime Minister accept this principle and go to elections so we have a stronger Parliament, a stronger Likud party.”
Netanyahu, who has called for a harder line against a two-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood, served as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999, when he was defeated by Labour’s Ehud Barak.