JERUSALEM — Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein has challenged Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu to announce openly that "should he be elected prime minister he will not appoint [Likud Knesset member Ariel] Sharon to the post of defense minister."
Rubinstein's demand came in the wake of an affidavit by Likud Knesset member Ze'ev "Benny" Begin, which claims that Sharon lied when he said that he had told the government of his plans to invade Beirut in 1982 while he was defense minister.
Sharon denied he had planned to reach Beirut from the outset, and said the offensive developed due to the situation on the ground. The government approved every phase of the war, he added.
Rubinstein also maintained that Sharon had lied and misled the late prime minister Menachem Begin, who agreed to a limited campaign of 25 miles into Lebanon.
"Sharon is unfit to serve as defense minister and since he is now so high on the Likud list there is a distinct danger that he will be again appointed to the Defense Ministry," Rubenstein said.
"If Netanyahu is seeking the public's trust, he must then make clear that he will not again allow Sharon to a position from which he can mislead the government."
Former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir voiced the official Likud line on the dispute in a radio interview over the holiday in which he argued that "no one is interested in events that took place 14 years ago while our house is burning right now.
"Israel's concern must be the abysmal present security situation and not events which are today irrelevant. We must dwell not on the past but concentrate on existential issues in the present to assure our future."
Netanyahu on Friday of last week said he was not ruling out bringing Sharon back as defense minister nor Benny Begin, according to Reuters.
"Both Ariel Sharon and, I must say, Benny Begin will be ministers in my government, distinguished ministers, and I am certainly not ruling anyone out," Reuters quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Nevertheless, several Likud sources have intimated that there is no intention of appointing Sharon as defense minister, and Sharon knows this and has no claims on the post.
However, for Netanyahu to declare this would be a severe blow to Sharon's prestige, which Netanyahu has no interest in delivering.
In an April 5 opinion poll by the daily Yediot Achronot of 503 Israelis, Peres was leading Netanyahu by 51 percent to 45 percent, with 4 percent not responding and a margin of error of 4 percent.