- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 28 (UPI) — In the early hours of Friday morning the Knesset, Israel's parliament, voted confidence in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new government, a coalition that brings together three hawkish parties and one that includes hawks and doves.

The vote officially marks legislative approval, and thus inauguration, of Israel's ruling structure and policies.

Sixty-six Knesset members in the 120-member legislature raised their hands in support shortly after midnight while 48 others — representing dovish, ultra-orthodox and Arab parties — voted against the new government. Among them were members of the Labor Party, the main rival of Sharon's Likud Party and whose break with his national unity government last October led to the new elections Jan. 28.

The hawkish coalition partners are Likud, the National Religious Party and the National Union. Among the fourth party, the centrist and secular Shinui, some ministers are hawkish while others are dovish and have supported Peace Now activities.

After the vote, the 75-year-old Sharon and each of the Likud, National Union and the Shinui ministers read out and signed an oath to fulfill their new duties honestly and to obey the laws. Then they proceeded to their deerskin seats at the Cabinet table.

The NRP-designated ministers are expected to follow suit Monday after their party's Central Committee approves the coalition agreement. At that time Natan Sharansky, whose diminished faction of Russian immigrants, Israel Baaliyah, joined the Likud after the elections, will also become minister. He could not be voted in because the Likud-Israel Baaliya agreement was not presented to the Knesset 24 hours before the session.

The vote of confidence followed seven hours of deliberations that began with Sharon's address, read out from a prepared text.

Part of his presentation was an outline of the new government's policies, including the coalition's official attitude toward the Palestinians. Before Israel will resume the peace process, said Sharon, the Palestinians must cease their acts of terror and violence, and replace their own leadership.

In outlining his policies to the Knesset Sharon tried to steer between the hawks and doves, keeping his options open. He said that in meetings with U.S. President George Bush and his administration "we reached an understanding about the conditions needed to open the political (peace) process."

He asserted, "Before returning to the political process there is need to stop terror and incitement, carry out deep reforms in the Palestinian Authority and replace the permanent leadership of the Palestinian Authority."

Sharon did not criticize the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords in name, but said, "A political process that would lead to true peace must be based on learning the lessons of the failure of the political outline tried in the last decade."

Bush on Wednesday told the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, that "as the terror threat is removed and security improves, (Israel) will be expected to support the creation of a viable Palestinian state."

In his Knesset address, Sharon stressed that should negotiations over a political arrangement "include the establishment of a Palestinian state, the matter will be brought to a debate and a decision in the Cabinet." In the past he has said he accepted Bush's plan, in principle, but has many conditions and reservations.

The prime minister came under strong criticism from Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, who will now head the opposition.

"With no compromise, no return to the negotiating table, no recognition of the need to part with the Palestinians and end the dispute with them, (nor) an agreement of two states for two peoples, we are heading for difficult times," Mitzna declared. He has promised to back moves towards peace, security and a strong economic plan, however.

The Knesset convened shortly after Sharon completed forming his new Cabinet.

Sharon tried to move Silvan Shalom to the Education Ministry from the Finance Ministry, where his record became controversial as the economy plummeted, businesses closed and unemployment spread. But incumbent Education Minister Limor Livnat refused to step aside, and Sharon instead made Shalom foreign minister.

Shalom's political views tend toward the hawkish and he has often advocated the expulsion of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. However he has been less hawkish than the outgoing foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and observers believe he might be more cooperative with Sharon should the prime minister decide to advance the peace process.

As he left the Knesset plenum Thursday after the festive session, he told Channel 2 TV he hoped "to do everything that is needed to exhaust every chance for peace."

Sharon offered Netanyahu, his main party rival, the post of finance minister. Netanyahu, a former prime minister as well as Sharon's foreign minister since November, initially refused. With Israel's economy in dire straits, leading the finance ministry is potentially a career-ending post and probably at best an unpopular one fraught with difficult choices. But he later bargained for expanded powers and changed his mind.

Giving Netanyahu the Finance Ministry bumped — and angered — Ehud Olmert, the Jerusalem mayor who had quit his job in order to become finance minister.

Olmert said Sharon promised him the finance ministry on Tuesday. On Wednesday Sharon gave it to Netanyahu and Thursday invited Olmert for a breakfast of fish and cheese and persuaded him to be minister of industry, commerce and labor and permanent acting prime minister. Olmert took the job.

Conspicuously absent from Sharon's new coalition are the ultra-orthodox parties, Shas whose rabbis came from Arab countries, and Torah Judaism whose rabbis came from Europe. Both have been in almost all coalitions of the last quarter of a decade and felt betrayed after supporting Sharon in the Jan. 28 elections.

However, Sharon had to choose between them and Shinui, which has fought for changing the status quo on religious matters and said it would not sit in the same government with Shas, whom it accused of corruption.

Shas complained that Shinui was discriminating against Oriental Jews. It particularly slammed Shinui's outspoken leader, Tommy Lapid, who was born in Yugoslavia and is thus an Ashkenazi.

"I was born an Ashkenazi and I admit it," Lapid said in an emotional plea to the Knesset. "Your rabbi called us garbage. I heard such expressions in another place, in another time, just because someone did not like my origins," he continued, alluding to the Holocaust. His father was killed in the Nazi death camp of Mauthausen, in upper Austria.

"Stop this civil war which will destroy us before the Arabs do so," Lapid urged.

Following is the list of Cabinet members presented to the Knesset Thursday, with party affiliations in parentheses.

Prime Minister — Ariel Sharon (Likud)

Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce and Industry — Ehud Olmert (Likud)

Agriculture — Israel Katz (Likud)

Defense — Shaul Mofaz (Likud)

Education — Limor Livnat (Likud)

Environment — Yehudit Naot (Shinui)

Finance — Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Foreign — Silvan Shalom (Likud)

Health — Danny Naveh (Likud)

Interior — Avraham Poraz (Shinui)

Justice — Yosef (Tommy) Lapid (Shinui)

Immigrant Absorption - Tzippi Livni (Likud)

Infrastructure — Joseph Paritzky (Shinui)

Public Security — Tzahi Hanegbi (Likud)

Science and Technology — Eliezer (Mudi) Sandberg (Shinui)

Tourism — Benyamin Elon (National Union)

Transport — Avigdor Liberman (National Union)

Ministers without portfolio — Gideon Ezra (Likud), Uzi Landau (Likud), Meir Sheetrit (Likud) and Natan Sharansky (Likud-Israel Baaliyah), responsible for Jerusalem, social and Diaspora affairs.

Sharon will temporarily hold the portfolios assigned to the National Religious Party until its central committee approves the coalition agreement as expected early next week.

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