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The rebels in the Likud faction decided to continue their struggle against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a meeting at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters on Sunday.
Sharon was hoping that following the Likud central committee's decision against advancing the primary two weeks ago, the Likud faction would become unified and he would be able to count on the votes of 40 Likud MKs for the first time since he announced the disengagement plan.
But the leaders of the rebels decided on Sunday that they would not accept any appointments from Sharon as ministers or deputy ministers, while remaining within the Likud as a single group. They also decided to meet as a group before each of the Knesset's key votes when it reconvenes at the end of the month, including the vote to appoint interim finance minister Ehud Olmert on a permanent basis, expanding the cabinet - and even the 2006 state budget proposal.
"We want everyone to know that our group has not broken up and we have to be taken seriously," a senior rebel MK said. "Sharon won't be able to get away with things like releasing Palestinian murderers from jail, giving in to Labor's dictates, or appointing his son as a minister."
The rebels invited MK Binyamin Netanyahu to the meeting, but his spokesman said that Netanyahu was too busy to attend. Rebel leader Uzi Landau, who received a key endorsement from American millionaire Irving Moskowitz on Friday, also could not attend the meeting because he was in the US raising funds for his Likud leadership campaign.
Sharon's associates said the prime minister would no longer tolerate insubordination in the faction. Sharon will meet individually with rebel MKs this week to emphasize the importance of party unity.
"We expect the entire faction to support the government and to allow the Likud to stay unified until the general election," a Sharon associate said. "The rebels will have to prove their loyalty. If they decide to continue their uprising, we will have to look elsewhere for support."
Sharon had to rely on support from the opposition to pass key votes ahead of disengagement. The prime minister is expected to meet with National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev this week in an effort to widen his coalition.
Labor chairman Shimon Peres said for the first time in a political rally in Haifa last week that he believed Labor should remain in the coalition until the general election, which is set for November 2006.
"Just like the national unity government was the only thing that allowed the disengagement from Gaza to succeed, Labor needs to continue to put the interests of the nation ahead of the party," Peres said at the Haifa rally. In a series of weekend interviews, he outlined a list of conditions for his party staying in the government that included diplomatic talks with the Palestinians and fighting poverty.
Peres's critics blasted him over the weekend, accusing him of sacrificing the party on the altar of his own personal agenda. The Labor Youth organization sent Peres a sharply-worded letter pleading with him "not to be Sharon's dishrag" and urging him that "if he lacks the self-confidence to lead the party, he should make room for someone else."
"Labor has to stop sanctifying Sharon if it wants to be an alternative to the Likud," said Peres's top challenger for the Labor leadership, Histadrut Labor Federation chief Amir Peretz. "At this pace, Labor will have nothing more to say in the next election. Under Peres, there is no reason for Labor to continue to exist."
Two weeks after the November 9 leadership race, which Peres is favored to win, Labor's ideological convention will convene to discuss whether the party should stay in the coalition. Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel said that he would propose that the party quit the government.
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