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Netanyahu to be Israel's New Foreign Minister - 2002-11-03

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted the position of foreign minister on the condition that early elections are held.

A Netanyahu aide told Army radio that the former prime minister made it clear that he believes no government can function in the current climate and that new elections are required.

Mr. Netanyahu, a member of Prime Minister Sharon's own Likud Party, wants Israel to pursue a harder line against the Palestinian uprising that broke out more than two years ago. He served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, when he was defeated by Labor's Ehud Barak.

Mr. Sharon also held an inconclusive first round of talks with the far-right National Union - Yisrael Beitenu Party, whose seven-seats would give Mr. Sharon's coalition a narrow majority in the parliament.

National Union officials are quoted as saying the party wants the prime minister to take a harder position toward the Palestinian leadership. The two sides are to meet again Monday after a confidence vote in parliament.

Prime Minister Sharon's coalition collapsed last week when the Labor Party withdrew from the government. The crisis developed in a dispute over funding for Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories. Party leader and then Defense Minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer resigned abruptly. He has been replaced by former hard-line army chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, whose nomination will be put before parliament for approval on Monday.