Netanyahu Tasked With Forming Next Government, Will Meet Sunday With Livni

By Haaretz Correspondents and News Agencies, Mazal Mualem, Yossi Verter and Yuval Azoulay

Published February 20, 2009.

Shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday accepted a mandate to form Israel’s next government, the Likud Chairman arranged to meet Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Sunday for coalition talks.

Livni told Netanyahu by phone that he was well aware of her position and there was nothing preventing them from meeting. Both rivals had laid claim to victory after last week’s inconclusive general election.

Earlier Friday, the Likud leader called for a broad, national unity coalition with centrist and left-wing partners.

“I call on Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni and Labor party chairman Ehud Barak and I say to them — let’s unite to secure the future of the State of Israel. I ask to meet with you first to discuss with you a broad national unity government for the good of the people and the state,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu on Friday accepted the formal invitation from President Shimon Peres to form the next government, saying he feels a great responsibility to provide Israel with security and peace.

Netanyahu said that Iran poses the biggest threat to Israel since its War of Independence, and that Israel also faces tough economic times ahead.

Netanyahu, who was prime minister in the 1990s, has six weeks to forge a coalition cabinet.

“I believe that it is in the national interest to establish a government as quickly as possible,” said Peres at the press conference in Jerusalem.

“The people of Israel need governmental and political stability so that we will be able to cope with the challenges standing before us,” Peres continued. “The challenges are varied and urgent. And the public expects expects that following the elections, a fitting government be formed that will roll up its sleeves and perform its duties faithfully.”

Livni earlier on Friday reiterated that her centrist Kadima party will likely join the opposition and not sit in a right-wing coalition headed by Netanyahu.

“A broad coalition has no value if it does not lead the way,” said Livni after meeting with President Shimon Peres.

“There is a coalition here based on a lack of political vision,” said Livni, “a coalition that will not allow me to exercise the way of Kadima.”

Peres on Friday met separately with Netanyahu and with Livni at his official residence in Jerusalem for talks on coalition-building.

The president summoned the two in an effort to promote a broad coalition that would include both Likud and Kadima.

Livni: Kadima won’t join far-right coalition

Livni told Haaretz on Thursday that she would not join a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu that would include Shas, Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, but she would be willing to consider a Likud-Kadima-Yisrael Beiteinu coalition.

Sixty-five MKs - all the right-wing and religious factions - recommended to Peres that he appoint Netanyahu to form the coalition. The left wing and Arab parties declined to make a recommendation.

Livni said Netanyahu was “asking us to join a coalition that he would first establish with Shas, which demanded that I stop negotiating with the Palestinians, and with Habayit Hayehudi and National Union, and with Bibi [Netanyahu] himself, who meanwhile refuses to talk about a two-state solution.” She said she would not be able to explain to her voters what she was doing in such a coalition.

Lieberman told the president he would like to see a “trio” coalition of all three big parties. He said a narrow coalition was “a possibility” but that it would constantly have to fight for its survival.

Livni said she has the full backing of her Knesset faction. “Netanyahu wants us to stabilize the government. He won’t get us. This is a coalition that will damage the country. It won’t be stable, but I won’t be there to save Bibi from himself and his partners,” she said.

“I hear I’m being offered veto power; Kadima didn’t come out the largest party to veto moves in the coalition, but to lead them.”

Sources close to Netanyahu have said over the past few days that Kadima might receive two senior ministerial portfolios: foreign affairs and finance, and Livni would be deputy prime minister.

In the face of criticism from party MKs over her talks with Lieberman, Livni said she had tried unsuccessfully to persuade Lieberman not to recommend anyone to the president, and the two parties had almost nothing in common. “I did what I had to do. I am going to the opposition,” she said.

Kadima edged out Likud in the February 10 election, capturing 28 seats to Likud’s 27, out of 120. But Likud is in a better position to put together a coalition because of gains by Lieberman and other hard-line parties.



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