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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Delays Decision on Sharon Post In Cabinet

JERUSALEM -- Israel's cabinet put off until Sunday a decision on whether to make room in its ranks for Ariel Sharon, a former general and Jewish settler champion likely to rub Arabs and Washington the wrong way.

Cabinet Secretary Danny Naveh said no action was taken at a meeting on Friday. But political sources said they expected a decision Sunday to make the 68-year-old Sharon head of a new and powerful Ministry of Infrastructure.

Israeli newspapers said the new ministry would be the third largest after defense and education with a $2 billion budget.

Problems with one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition partners delayed a decision. The United Torah Judaism party, which controls the housing ministry, said it did not want to cede certain powers to Sharon.

Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, co-chairman of the ultra-Orthodox party, predicted Netanyahu would iron out the wrinkles by Sunday "if he'll know to say to Mr. Sharon 'yes' and 'no.'"

Should the Likud-led cabinet of right-wing and religious ministers act on Sunday, Netanyahu would still have time to squeeze the burly Sharon into the government before leaving Monday for his inaugural visit to the United States.

Foreign Minister David Levy forced the issue by threatening publicly to quit the cabinet unless Netanyahu made room for Sharon, Levy's political ally, before the U.S. trip.

On Friday, Netanyahu summoned ministers in his security cabinet to a discussion on the planned pullout from Hebron, the last of seven West Bank cities due to be handed over to Palestinian self-rule. No decision was taken.

An official in the prime minister's office declined to confirm a report by Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that Netanyahu would decide before leaving whether to go ahead with the redeployment.

A cabinet minister in previous Likud governments, Sharon frequently clashed with Washington over his hardline policies.

As defense minister, Sharon oversaw Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He was forced out of the job a year later after an Israeli inquiry found him indirectly responsible for the massacre by Christian militiamen of hundreds of Palestinians in two Beirut refugee camps surrounded by Israeli soldiers.

In the early 1990s, he led a Jewish settlement drive in the occupied West Bank. The United States called the outposts obstacles to peace and held up $10 million in loan guarantees over the issue. Netanyahu, eager to portray himself as a peacemaker despite his opposition to giving up occupied lands, snubbed Sharon for a senior cabinet post in the weeks of coalition-building following the May 29 election.

Netanyahu has in the past called Sharon "a permanent subversive." But Sharon was instrumental in getting Netanyahu elected by persuading Levy to forge an alliance with the Likud leader rather than run against him.

Netanyahu's office said the new ministry would include the energy ministry, the Lands Administration, the Road Building Authority, the Train Authority, village building, the Water Commission, the National Sewage Authority, roads bypassing Palestinian areas in the West Bank, the Mining Authority and the Negev and Galilee Development Authorities.