American Oleh Appointed Defense Minister.
By David Gollust (VOA-Jerusalem)
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has appointed veteran Likud party figure Moshe Arens as defense minister. The previous defense chief Yitzhak Mordechai was fired Saturday and is now running against Netanyahu in the May election.
Netanyahu named Arens defense minister only a day after trouncing him by a 5-1 margin in a primary election for the leadership of the right-wing Likud party.
Arens, an American immigrant who had served as defense minister twice before in Likud governments, has been bitterly critical of Netanyahu's performance as prime minister.
But in a show of unity, he appeared alongside the prime minister and Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon at a news conference and announced he would take the defense portfolio once again.
Netanyahu said Arens would continue in the defense job, if he wins the elections, and said his security team would stick to a tough approach in demanding reciprocity for Israeli concessions in the peace process with the Palestinians.
The prime minister is being challenged in the election beginning May 17 by Labor party leader Ehud Barak and a new centrist movement led by former defense chief Mordechai.
Most analysts expected Netanyahu to face either Barak or Mordechai in a run-off June 1, with the ultimate winner tasked with assembling a working coalition in a divided Knesset.
In an Israel Radio interview, Likud Knesset member Meir Shitreet said Israel -- facing critical decisions for peace -- cannot afford another shaky coalition of either the left or right. He said the principals in the election should agree on a government of national unity.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accord, Israel and the Palestinians are to complete negotiations on the final-status issue of the peace process by May, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat is threatening to unilaterally declare statehood in the absence of a negotiated agreement.
Israel tried a unity government of Labor and Likud with mixed success in the mid-1980s as it withdrew from its invasion and occupation of most of southern Lebanon.