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Archive for Saturday, March 3, 2001

Labor joins Israeli coalition government

March 3, 2001

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— Israel's Labor Party on Friday chose eight of its members to serve in the Cabinet of Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, including a blunt-talking, Iraqi-born former army general who as defense minister will lead the fight against surging Palestinian violence.

The center-left Labor Party also picked the first non-Jew ever to serve as minister in an Israeli government. Salah Tarif, a member of the Druze minority, will become minister without portfolio. At the same time, Sharon brought into his administration far-right politicians who advocate the expulsion of Arabs from Israel.

And so, after weeks of horse-trading that isn't over yet, Sharon's "national unity" government was starting to take shape Friday. The 73-year-old right-wing leader, who won election Feb. 6 in a landslide over Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, said he hopes to swear in the new government Wednesday, although last-minute holdouts could delay the installation.

In all, Sharon is expected to build a Cabinet of as many as 30 ministers a record. The size of, and ideological divisions within such an unwieldy coalition have raised questions here about how effectively it can govern and act to "restore security" to Israeli citizens traumatized by a five-month Palestinian uprising which was Sharon's principal election pledge.

"One would have to be a hopeless optimist in order to believe that such a government will last," Israel's largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, said in an editorial.

The Labor Party's central committee met in a Tel Aviv fairgrounds Friday morning to elect its eight ministers. Elder statesman and Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres, 77, was named to the position of foreign minister by acclamation.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, 65, who served as communications minister under Barak, was chosen over two other candidates to assume the defense post. Ben-Eliezer, known by the nickname Fuad, was said to be Sharon's preferred candidate for the job. The two men share similar get-tough approaches to dealing with the Palestinians.

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