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"If Sharon tries to depose Netanyahu, it will lead to World War III in the party." So said Uzi Cohen, a leading member of the Likud Central Committee, to Arutz-7 today. A few minutes later, it was reported that Ariel Sharon had in fact decided to replace Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with Silvan Shalom. Netanyahu, after rejecting Sharon's offer to name him Finance Minister in place of Shalom, apparently changed his mind a few hours later and was considering accepting the post. But let's start at the beginning:
Once the Likud completed its negotiations with the other parties last night (see next article), its internal difficulties began. The main issue was that Prime Minister Sharon had promised Ehud Olmert the Finance Ministry, but the incumbent - Silvan Shalom - refused to leave. Sharon offered to create a revved-up version of an Industry and Trade portfolio for Shalom, but the latter said no. Sharon then wanted to offer Shalom the Education Ministry, but Limor Livnat was not happy about giving it up, and neither was Shalom keen on taking it.
Finally, in desperation - some say it was cleverly thought out all along - Sharon offered the Finance Ministry post to Foreign Minister Netanyahu, apparently realizing and possibly hoping that he would turn it down. This in fact happened, and Sharon then felt free to offer the post of Foreign Minister to Silvan Shalom, who accepted immediately. Netanyahu, a former Prime Minister, thus appeared to be the victim of a humiliating firing, and seemed headed for internal opposition within the Likud. Later in the afternoon, however, Netanyahu called in his advisors, including a lawyer to help him draw up an appropriate response, and speculation is rife that he will in fact take the Finance Ministry after all. A final announcement is expected this evening. If he takes it, Ehud Olmert will apparently receive the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
After Netanyahu's original rejection of Finance, Sharon hurried to grant Uzi Landau's Public Security portfolio to Tzachi HaNegbi, promising that Landau would "serve the government in another capacity." Gideon Ezra was offered the post of Minister without Portfolio, responsible for coordinating government and Knesset relations, and the Agriculture Ministry will be filled by MK Yisrael Katz. Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz and Education Minister Livnat will remain in their positions, and the Minister of Health is still unknown.
Shalom's supporters had said that if he were to be thrown out of Finance, he would not join the government at all and would lead the internal Likud opposition to Sharon. Netanyahu, too, seemed poised to take over that position. Some 13 of the Likud's original 38 MKs, including new ones, say that Sharon waged the coalition negotiations poorly, and raised a demand that the key Interior Ministry not be given to the Shinui Party.
Final Coalition Agreement Signed
Arutz 7 – February 26, 2003
The coalition agreement of the Likud, Shinui, the National Union, and the National Religious Party was signed in the Knesset this afternoon. The Knesset, with a majority consisting of at least the 68 coalition MKs, is scheduled to vote to approve it this afternoon. The new government will not be sworn in until tomorrow or Monday, however, because the final distribution of the Cabinet portfolios has not yet been completed.
The coalition guidelines state that Sharon's "Herzliya speech," in which he called for a Palestinian state in accordance with U.S. President George Bush's "vision of Middle East peace," will be the guiding principle. The National Union agreed to leave this reference in the guidelines, under the assumption that the issue is not relevant; both the NRP and the National Union insisted that the issue be brought for government approval before the onset of talks on the matter. National Union officials say that cooperation between themselves and the NRP will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Atty. Elyakim Ha'etzni of Kiryat Arba, a former MK of the now-defunct right-wing Techiya party, is upset with the National Union. "It's very painful," he told Arutz-7 today, "to hear them say that their presence in the government prevents Sharon from including Labor in the coalition. What, does someone think that if Sharon could have gone with Labor, he wouldn't have? It's clear that as soon as [Labor party leader] Mitzna leaves - and Sharon and Peres and Ben-Eliezer are working to make this happen - Labor will rush to join the government... Sharon and the right-wing no longer have the same political ideology. Sharon's ideology is now the same as Peres', and he has in fact destroyed the right-wing; first he turned the Likud to the center, and now he has neutralized the NRP and the National Union. As soon as the diplomatic conditions ripen for his diplomatic plan, Labor will replace the National Union and the NRP."
National Union representatives have said that that even for Sharon, a Palestinian state is still far off, as the Oslo War is still far from over and Yasser Arafat is still in charge of the PA. They say that their presence in the government will block a Palestinian state "for the short-term, and for the long-term as well."