Ariel Sharon, hawkish leader of Israel's right-wing Likud opposition party, confirmed Friday that he had rejected an invitation from Prime Minister Ehud Barak to join an emergency government.
"I have rejected the offer of the Prime Minister on the grounds that he has not changed his hesitant policy on the manner of ensuring the security of the Israeli population," Sharon told Israeli public radio only hours after a late-night meeting with Barak.
On Wednesday, Israeli television reported that Sharon, blamed by the Palestinians for triggering the wave of unrest with a controversial visit to a disputed holy shrine in occupied east Jerusalem on September 28, had rejected the call.
It said that in return for his support, Sharon was demanding that Barak renounce any concessions he made at the Camp David peace summit that ended in failure in July.
In his statement Friday, Sharon said that the "positions of the prime minister on Jerusalem, the Jordan valley and the right of Palestinian refugees to return are unacceptable to Likud."
He was referring to concessions Barak is believed to have made during the failed Camp David summit with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the United States in July.
Press reports say these would have included agreeing to discuss transferring control to the Palestinians of part of the Arab quarter of east Jerusalem, an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the return of a small number of refugees.
Sharon demands that Barak publicly renounce any such arrangements, something which Barak has so far refused to do.
Meanwhile, a public opinion poll published Friday in the daily Maariv showed that both Sharon and former Prime Minister and ex-Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu would beat Barak if elections were held now.
Also, as has been the case for several months, a Netanyahu candidacy would be even more likely to beat Barak.
Asked for whom they would vote, 48 percent picked Netanyahu and only 27 percent the current prime minister, with 25 percent undecided, compared to last week's poll which showed 47 percent for Nethanyahu and 29 for Barak.
In a hypothetical Sharon-Barak contest, the Likud leader would beat the Prime Minister by only 11 percent margine (41% against 30%), with 29 percent undecided. A week ago, Sharon would have won by 3 percent magine (37% against 34%).
The polls have an estimated margin of error of 4.5 percent -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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