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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Far Right Wins Sharon Extra Time

JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday survived three no-confidence votes, winning more time to try to restore the parliamentary majority he lost when the moderate Labor Party bolted his coalition last week.

Parliament also approved the appointment of a former army chief, Shaul Mofaz, as the new defense minister, despite criticism from across the political spectrum that Mofaz was too fresh out of uniform to be given the job.

Sharon also renewed a call to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as his foreign minister. Netanyahu said he would only take the job if Sharon called early elections -- a response dismissed by Sharon aides as illogical.

"Taking the nation to immediate elections would be irresponsible," Sharon told legislators from his Likud party. "I hope everyone acts responsibly and doesn't try to make it difficult for a stable government to function."

Parliament on Monday voted on three no-confidence motions. Sharon survived comfortably with the help of the far-right National Union-Israel Beitenu faction, which is weighing an offer by Sharon to join the coalition. After Labor's departure, Sharon was left with the assured support of only 55 of 120 legislators. The far-right faction seems ready to prop up the government long enough to pass the 2003 state budget in coming weeks, but after that it may favor forcing early elections.

The National Union presented Sharon with tough terms for joining his coalition: that he formally cancel Israel's commitment to the 1990s interim peace accords with the PLO and declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist entity.

"This is a good opportunity to change the government's policies," said Avigdor Lieberman, a lawmaker from the party. "If [Sharon] won't change the basic policies and he won't change anything ... why should we join the government?"

However, Sharon insisted Monday that "the fundamental guidelines and policies of the government will not change."

Sharon has said elections should be held as scheduled, in October 2003.

But on Sunday, Netanyahu made early elections a condition for his accepting Sharon's offer to join the government as foreign minister. Netanyahu argued that stable government is impossible given the current parliamentary makeup and that the governing Likud will emerge from balloting significantly strengthened.

Analysts and political observers generally agreed that Netanyahu's move was part of a broader aim to challenge Sharon for Likud's leadership in a primary ahead of any general election, but were divided on whether Sharon would accept the terms.

Sharon, meanwhile, won parliament approval for Mofaz, a reputed hawk who as military chief until July had angered Palestinians with his tough policies and supported exiling Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

 A suicide bomber blew himself up in a shopping mall in central Israel on Monday, also killing a bystander and wounding 11, including two infants who were lightly hurt, police and medics said.

Islamic Jihad, a small militant faction, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to Lebanon's Manar TV. The bomber was identified as Nabil Sawalha, a resident of the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus.