Netanyahu wants early vote to take minister job


Benjamin Netanyahu today made an early Israeli election his condition for accepting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's offer to be foreign minister in a narrow right-wing government.

"Benjamin Netanyahu agrees to serve as foreign minister in a government that will head to early elections," Mr Netanyahu said in a statement issued after he met Mr Sharon at the prime minister's Jerusalem residence.

Mr Sharon offered Netanyahu the foreign ministry post on Friday, two days after the centre-left Labour Party pulled out of his ruling coalition in a dispute over funding for Jewish settlements on occupied land in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Mr Sharon has been trying to draw far-right parties into his shrunken government to regain a parliamentary majority shattered by Labour's departure.

Under Mr Netanyahu's proposal, he would join a revamped government as foreign minister and Mr Sharon would announce an early general election. By law, Mr Sharon must hold a national ballot no later than October 2003.

Mr Netanyahu's terms appeared to leave open the possibility that he could still fulfill his pledge to challenge Mr Sharon for the Likud leadership in the next election Israel holds.

Mr Netanyahu, who has called for a harder line against a two-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood, served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, when he was defeated by Labour's Ehud Barak.