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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Livni: Netanyahu Must Decide - Right or Us

15/03/2009 | hanan awarekeh | Almanartv

Despite the rekindled coalition talks between Kadima and Likud, Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni remained firm in her position Sunday.

Speaking to Israeli ministers outside of the weekly cabinet meeting, Livni said there would be no coalition agreement with Likud that would not include the Annapolis inspired two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and "equal partnership" in the government – meaning rotation in the prime minister's role.

"This is Bibi's (Netanyahu) basic choice," Livni told the ministers, "of whether he goes with the Right or with us. It should be expressed in equal partnership and in the diplomatic field. There will be no agreement without the diplomatic matter."

During the cabinet meeting, Livni met in private with Labor Chairman and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak for about an hour. Barak, the great loser of the 2009 election, certainly hopes unity succeeds; that would make him opposition leader, with all the status and trappings of that post. In addition, Kadima's joining the coalition, at the price of ousting National Union and Habayit Hayehudi, could pave Labor's way to the government.

Barak's main condition as already been met: The next justice minister will not be Daniel Friedmann, but Ya'akov Ne'eman. The Justice Ministry will not go to Yisrael Beiteinu, but to Likud.

Sources close to Israeli Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu said that while there was a chance that Likud would sign a coalition agreement with several right-wing parties, "the door is still open for Kadima".

Afinal attempt to create a Likud-Kadima coalition looks inevitable. Disgust mixed with panic over a political collapse that Benjamin Netanyahu and most of his senior people feel in light of the nascent right-wing coalition pushed them to seek a unity government more than two weeks ago. Whether it ends with a marriage or a cessation of bargaining by partners on the right - particularly United Torah Judaism and National Union - Netanyahu might come out ahead.

According to an aide to Netanyahu, "The other partners know very well that there is a chance for a broad unity government and everything that comes with it, and that Kadima will get whatever it deserves in accordance with its size and significance in the government."

Earlier Sunday, it was reported that Netanyahu and Livni met several times last week and spoke on the phone a few more times in an attempt to renew coalition talks. News of the series of meetings came after the parties reported only one meeting between the two leaders last week. The clearest sign that something is happening is Livni's silence over the past 10 days.

Unconfirmed reports tell of major progress. However, rotation of the premiership is still a mystery. Some observers believe Netanyahu has agreed to a rotation that gives him three years as prime minister; others claim he is not there yet.

Ynet has also learned that the Likud leader's associate, Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, was privy to the talks and was helping bridge the differences. Sources involved in the talks told Ynet that Livni wants "the entire package" from Netanyahu and would not settle for only part of the demands.

In the meetings, the Kadima chairwoman reiterated her demand for an equal government which would be based on Kadima and the Likud, and a commitment from Netanyahu in the diplomatic field.

Over the weekend, Likud, Kadima and Labor Party officials continued to discuss the possibility of forming a national unity government. However, senior Likud officials who spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu got the impression that the prime minister-designate is unenthusiastic about Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni's demand for a rotation in the prime minister's role.

Ynet reported on Friday that the secret talks between Kadima and the Likud were resumed in recent days. Netanyahu even spoke to senior Kadima officials, but a party source clarified that "these are not negotiation discussions".

Other senior officials from both parties also held secret talks, including Knesset Members Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) and Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima), who discussed the possibility of resuming the official negotiations for the establishment of a unity government.

Sources in the political arena noted that Netanyahu planned to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres in the coming days in order to receive an extension for the mission of forming a new government, but that he appeared not to be pleased with the matter. "He prefers not to ask for two more weeks. The agreement between the two parties could be finalized this week if wanted," one of the sources said.

Netanyahu is to present his government to the Knesset on Thursday. In less than a day we will know whether he is, as he has more than once declared, determined not to repeat the mistake of his narrow government in 1996, which sent him to a political low, or whether it was just a sophisticated gambit.

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