With coalition in line, Ariel Sharon set to take power Wednesday
JERUSALEM (AP) – Ariel Sharon is set to become prime minister Wednesday as the head of a broad-based government that will face the urgent task of restoring security to an anxious Israel rocked by five months of violence with the Palestinians.
A month after his election victory, Sharon will present his unity government to parliament on Wednesday. It could include more than 80 members of the 120-seat Knesset, according to Ruby Rivlin, a member of Sharon’s Likud party.
With peace talks on hold and Islamic militants threatening more bombings, the 73-year-old Sharon faces tough decisions on how to deal with the Palestinian uprising that has claimed more than 420 lives.
If he imposes even tougher security measures, he could inflame the confrontation. But if he fails to quell the violence, he could lose the support of Israelis and his coalition partners.
”We will make every effort to achieve (peace), but the reality around us reminds us that the struggle for the land of Israel is not over,” Sharon said Tuesday. ”Our neighbors have recognized our military might, but have not yet recognized our right to the country.”
Palestinian militants have threatened to welcome Sharon with an onslaught of bombings. Four Israelis and a Palestinian suicide bomber have been killed in blasts over the past week.
The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility Tuesday for the weekend suicide bombing that claimed the lives of three Israelis. A Hamas spokesman in Beirut said the military wing of the Islamic movement, called Izzedin al-Kassam, was behind the blast Sunday in the coastal city of Netanya.
After a month of negotiations, Sharon’s Likud Party and the coalition partners handed in papers Tuesday sealing their agreement to form a unity government
Sharon needs only a simple majority – and is expected to get it with ease – when he formally presents his government for approval Wednesday. The coalition includes right-wing religious parties that oppose any concessions to the Palestinians as well as the Labor Party, which has led the drive for a peace deal.
The broad coalition, which could prove unwieldy, has several aims: to give Israel a sense of unity at a time of crisis; to soften Sharon’s hard-line image; and to make his government less susceptible to collapse in the fractious parliament.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak won a landslide victory less than two years ago. But his coalition fell apart last summer amid disputes over his proposals for a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem.
Peace talks with the Palestinians broke off shortly before Israel’s Feb. 6 ballot, and Sharon has said negotiations will not resume until the violence ends. Even optimists do not expect a quick resumption of talks.
The Palestinian leadership has been relatively quiet this week, their offices closed for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
However, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has said resistance will continue, and the Palestinians believe any negotiations should resume where they left off.
Sharon has suggested he would offer the Palestinians no territory beyond what they now control, an area that includes most of Gaza and a little more than 40 percent of the West Bank.
Sharon ”will turn to Mr. Arafat and ask him whether he is ready to negotiate seriously,” said Rivlin, the incoming communications minister. ”Negotiations can only be held once they stop every terror act. Arafat must understand that no one can get away with hitting Israel.”
Sharon’s government will also include doves such as Shimon Peres, the designated foreign minister who advocates keeping open channels of communication with the Palestinians even during heavy fighting.
The fighting, which broke out after Sharon visited Jerusalem’s most hotly disputed religious site last September, has claimed 423 lives, including 347 Palestinians, 57 Israeli Jews and 19 others.
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