Sharon wants NRP, not Lapid

NRP wants PM to commit to nat'l referendum on future land concessions.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would like to see the National Religious Party and not Shinui join the coalition, sources close to Sharon said on Thursday. Following Sharon's meeting with Shinui head Yosef Lapid on Thursday, Lapid told reporters that Sharon invited him to join the coalition. Lapid said he replied that Shinui would consider it if the government enacted civil marriage and forced haredim to serve in the army. Sharon's office later denied that such an offer was made to Shinui. Sharon's associates said that Sharon merely offered Shinui "cooperation" and that if any party joins the coalition, it would be the National Religious Party. NRP chairman Zevulun Orlev is set to meet with Sharon next week, but Orlev outlined a list of demands on Thursday that made the NRP joining the coalition unlikely. The list included Sharon committing to a national referendum on future territorial concessions and giving the NRP the Education portfolio. "Disengagement is not over yet and thousands of people don't have homes or jobs yet," Orlev said. "Joining the government would give legitimacy to disengagement, so we cannot join at this stage." Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom hosted half the Likud faction and hundreds of Likud central committee members at a Rosh Hashana toast in Ramat Gan. Shalom lashed out at former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, saying "the Likud has not raised the social affairs banner in years."