- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

JERUSALEM Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday offered the post of foreign minister to his main challenger to lead Israel's next government, Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Mr. Netanyahu, a former prime minister who hopes to make a political comeback by unseating Mr. Sharon, reacted coolly to the offer, according to Netanyahu aides quoted by Israeli Radio.
The two rivals in the hawkish Likud party met privately at Mr. Sharon's sheep farm in the Negev desert where the offer was made.
Rather than accepting, Mr. Netanyahu reportedly said he favored early elections instead of trying to form a new government after this week's collapse of a 20-month coalition with the Labor Party.
Before Israel's next election, Mr. Netanyahu plans to challenge Mr. Sharon for leadership of the Likud party before new elections.
The two have not always been rivals. When Mr. Netanyahu was prime minister from 1996 to 1999, he brought Mr. Sharon in as foreign minister for part of his tenure.
Even as he offered the foreign ministry portfolio to Mr. Netanyahu and the defense portfolio to former army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz both of them hard-liners Mr. Sharon reassured Washington that he will not change his policies, Israeli newspapers reported.
"I am on the way to forming a government with a different makeup," Mr. Sharon told the Ma'ariv newspaper. "Policy lines will remain exactly the same policy lines and its goals won't change: war on terror, renewing political negotiations and reaching an agreement."
Mr. Sharon rejected demands by the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu bloc that he draw up new guidelines that reject Oslo peace accords.
Mr. Sharon has asked the bloc, which has seven Knesset (parliament) members, to join the new government. Should it accept, he would have a narrow majority of 62 members in the 120-member Knesset. Party leaders said they would announce their intentions Monday.
Analysts say Mr. Sharon is attempting to remain in office for the next few months, a period in which he hopes to strengthen his position within Likud to stave off the challenge by Mr. Netanyahu.
His decision to appoint former Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz as defense minister reinforces concern over the absence of checks and balances within the inner-security Cabinet.
Until this week, key decisions were made by two key Labor Party members, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.

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