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Israel's Netanyahu Considers Offer of Cabinet Post - 2002-11-03

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering an offer from the current prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to join his government. Israeli media reports say that, so far, Mr. Netanyahu has reacted coolly to the offer from his Likud party rival.

Sources close to both Mr. Sharon and Mr. Netanyahu said this weekend that Mr. Netanyahu is not likely to accept Mr. Sharon's offer to join the government as foreign minister.

A Netanyahu aid said a second meeting on Sunday between the two was unlikely to change things. He said the former prime minister is not very excited about the prospects of playing second fiddle to Ariel Sharon. The two men also met Friday at the prime minister's Sycamore Ranch, where he was offered the post of foreign minister. Mr. Netanyahu is reported to have replied that he wants to wait and see whether Mr. Sharon manages to establish a functioning government.

He also is said to have called for a fundamental change in the government's economic policies, as well as a clear delineation of the government's position on the peace process. Sunday was also the day for negotiations between aids representing Mr. Sharon and members of the National Union-Yisreal Beitenu faction on the formation of a narrow right-wing government.

Israeli Army Radio reported that sources within the right-wing faction said that it was unlikely they would join the coalition, if the government's policy toward the Palestinians remains unchanged.

Mr. Sharon is hoping to garner enough support for his government to survive three no-confidence votes that are due to take place Monday. Mr. Sharon has said that he wants to avoid early elections and to establish a functioning government that would survive until October 28, 2003, the date elections are scheduled. Prime Minster Sharon met Friday with U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, and told him Israel will abide by all understandings and agreements it has with the United States.

Israel's former hard-line army chief-of-staff, Shaul Mofaz, has accepted the post of defense minister. On Monday, his nomination will be put before parliament for approval.

As Mr. Sharon worked to form a new coalition, a crowd estimated at 100,000 turned out in Tel Aviv Saturday night for a rally of remembrance of Yitzhak Rabin, who led the country into the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, and was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish fanatic in November 1995. The crowd saw videotaped addresses from Jordan's King Abdullah II and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, calling Mr. Rabin a man of peace whose presence is sorely missed.