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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Netanyahu Gets Cabinet Ultimatum

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked tough to Israel's Arab peace partners Wednesday but was then stunned when his foreign minister threatened to quit.


"Gone is the age when Israel faces a demand and concedes, faces a demand and concedes, and the other side isn't asked to fulfill its commitments," the hardline leader, 46, said in a speech to supporters in parliament.


Moments later Foreign Minister David Levy, 58, told the same group he was giving Netanyahu five days -- until his first U.S. trip as prime minister -- to make room at their cabinet table for burly former general Ariel Sharon.


"If by the time you leave ... this issue has not been resolved, I will make it easier ... by vacating a place," Levy said.


The bombshell announcement, in a public speech rather than a political backroom, embarrassed Netanyahu, who as Israel's first directly elected prime minister has tried to model his unprecedented executive powers on the U.S. presidency.


The Israeli leader insisted he wanted Sharon, a 68-year-old ex-general in their Likud party, in his government. Netanyahu has called Sharon "a permanent subversive" in the past.


"We will [discuss this issue], but not here. And that's the bottom line -- not here. I don't conduct negotiations, certainly not on such sensitive issues, foreign minister, sir, in the presence of television cameras," Netanyahu said.


As a cabinet minister, Sharon led Israel into its unpopular 1982 Lebanon war, and in the early 1990s battled the United States over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.


Levy, Sharon's Likud ally, had threatened not to join the government in a flap over Sharon's nonappointment but relented when Netanyahu promised to form a new Infrastructure Ministry for Sharon from parts of existing ministries.


Those efforts stalled as cabinet ministers were unwilling to part with duties that would make up the new portfolio.


Sharon has had little to say about the affair -- except that he would welcome the chance to head a specially created Ministry of Infrastructure. He was instrumental in getting Netanyahu elected by persuading Levy to forge an alliance with the Likud leader rather than run against him for prime minister.


"There's no reason that his seat [in the government] will remain empty," Levy said.


In memoirs published last year, former Secretary of State James Baker wrote that Sharon's "inflammatory rhetoric and expansionist zeal" had undercut U.S. efforts to find a solution to the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict.


"Like his settlements policy, Ariel Sharon was an obstacle to peace," Baker wrote. The settlement drive prompted President George Bush to hold up $10 billion in loan guarantees for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.


?Israeli warplanes blasted a Palestinian guerrilla base in eastern Lebanon on Tuesday, a strike intended as retribution for an ambush that killed three Israeli soldiers last week, security sources told The Associated Press.


The jets fired four rockets on the base near Aita al-Fukhar, in the Bekaa Valley about five kilometers from the Syrian border, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


There was no immediate word on casualties.