Sharon recruits rival Netanyahu to help in P.R. effort

Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with senior aides and Israel Defense Force officers regarding Israel's information efforts, and then Sharon publicly asked Netanyahu for his assistance. Sharon, said a statement issued by his office, called Netanyahu to ask him to join the information campaign and contribute his talents in this field to the state of Israel.

According to the statement, Sharon said there is no doubt Netanyahu can help a great deal in explaining Israeli policies to the world at a time when the state of Israel is conducting a military campaign to eradicate the terror infrastructure.

Sources close to Netanyahu said that just as thousands of soldiers have been drafted to help the country in the conflict, Netanyahu is willing to be drafted to help the country's public relations effort. But Netanyahu, the sources noted, does not intend to take a cabinet position, and one official close to him expressed discomfort about the possibility of the former prime minister being forced to coordinate his message with the government.

"He is not going to coordinate his statements with Shimon Peres' man, [foreign minister director-general] Avi Gil," the official said. "Netanyahu does not intend to parrot the Foreign Ministry's messages."

The idea of enlisting Netanyahu for the nation's information efforts was discussed, political officials said, at a meeting Sharon and Peres held before the larger meeting on the country's information policies Monday afternoon. Netanyahu was not discussed at the second meeting, one participant said.

After Sharon's office issued the statement, Sharon and Netanyahu spoke briefly by phone, the first such conversation they have had since shortly after Sharon was elected in February 2001. The two have repeatedly criticized each other in public, without mentioning each other by name.

One government official said there appears to be more to Sharon's call for Netanyahu to rally around the flag then merely trying to use the latter's rhetorical abilities. "This is a smart political move by Sharon," the official said. "On the one hand he is seen as trying to draw Netanyahu close to him, and is making him an offer he can't refuse. How could Netanyahu say no to working for the country's interests at this time?"

And on the other hand, the official said, Sharon will "if need be" be able to hold Netanyahu responsible for any future public relations failures.