Israel’s new prime minister is still trying to make room for Ariel Sharon in his government.
Sharon, who prior to the elections brokered a deal with other right-wing parties and helped secure the Orthodox vote, is demanding a senior post in the Cabinet of Benjamin Netanyahu.
After a row with one of the religious parties in the coalition over the Housing Ministry, it appeared that a new portfolio would be created especially for Sharon: infrastructure.
But new ministers who would have to give up some of their authorities for the creation of the portfolio are voicing opposition.
The struggle continued Wednesday as the government officially changed hands.
Netanyahu, 46, narrowly defeated Labor incumbent Shimon Peres in the May 29 elections, which marked the first time Israelis directly chose their prime minister.
At a changerover ceremony earlier in the day, Peres wished Netanyahu success in balancing the needs of the nation and the desires of the people.
Netanyahu said he hoped the two could work together toward peace.
“Despite the differences between us, perhaps even deep differences, the thing that unites us is the thing that unites the entire country – and that’s the desire to see the State of Israel marching forward to the 21st century assured of protection and achieving peace with our neighbors,” the new prime minister said.
Netanyahu, heading his first Cabinet meeting later in the day, announced that he would form an American-style national security council. The council will be headed by David Ivry, who has served as director general of the Defense Ministry.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s foreign minister, David Levy, on Wednesday charged Arab states with unnecessarily creating tension over the Israeli elections.
Arab states viewed with dismay the new government’s policy guidelines, which were published this week. The guidelines assert israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as well as opposition to a Palestinian state and the land-for-peace principle espoused by the former government.
Arab media described the guidelines as “a declaration of war, not peace,” as last-minute preparations were being made for an Arab summit this weekend in Cairo to discuss the peace process and the outcome of the Israeli elections.
Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, speaking in Beijing, called on the international community to ensure that the peace agreements it signed with Israel are implemented. “This is no longer a bilateral issue,” he said.
For his part, Levy said, “I expect to hear from this summit, which is due to take place in the coming days, a message of peace, a warm hand toward the State of Israel.”
A first test of the new government will be whether it carries out a redeployment of Israeli army troops in the West Bank town of Hebron, as called for in the peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israel under the former government.
The redeployment, scheduled for March, was delayed by the previous government after a string of suicide bombings. A subsequent agreement would have resheduled the redeployment for mid-June. With its population of some 450 Jewish settlers and 100,000 Palestinians, the town has been a flashpoint for violence.
Avigdor Kahalani, The Third Way leader and former Labor Party hawk who has joined the new government as minister of public security, said Wednesday that he favors carrying out the redeployment.
But Netanyahu himself has yet to make clear his intentions.
Danny Naveh, Cabinet secretary, told reporters at a briefing that Hebron had not been discussed by the ministers at the first meeting. “The prime minister is going to consider this issue in the near future in order to make a decision,” he said.