“Today the foundation was laid for an extreme right-wing government led by [Likud Chairman Benjamin] Netanyahu. This is not our way, and there is nothing for us in such a government,” Kadima leader Tzipi Livni told party members on Thursday, after 65 MKs announced their decision to support Netanyahu for the post of prime minister-designate.
Kadima edged out Likud in the Feb. 10 election, capturing 28 seats compared to 27 for Likud. But in the 120-seat Knesset, Likud is in a better position to put together a coalition because of gains by extreme right-winger Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and other hard-line parties. It could be several weeks before a coalition is finally formed.
The candidate chosen to form the new government will have to recruit a majority of at least 61 MKs in the Knesset to his or her coalition, in order to establish a stable government.
It is up to President Shimon Peres to determine which candidate, Livni or Netanyahu, has a better chance of forming a successful coalition, but after more than 61 MKs have voiced their support for Netanyahu, it appears that his path to the premiership is already paved.
Livni went on to say “we weren’t elected to legitimize this extreme right-wing government, and we must represent an alternative of hope and go to the opposition.”
“Kadima will continue fighting for it beliefs and its path — a diplomatic arrangement based on two states for two peoples alongside an unrelenting war on terror, while addressing internal civil issues that require immediate remedy, most importantly an alteration of the current system of government and the marriage system and the creation of a true common ground to represent Israel’s values as a democratic Jewish state,” Livni continued.
Meanwhile, Peres was expected to summon Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni on Friday to finalize which one of the rivals should become Israel’s next prime minister and begin the task of forming a government.
The president began consultations on Wednesday with Knesset factions’ representatives, and is likely to decide over the weekend on which one of the pair to charge with the task of setting up a coalition.
Lieberman, meanwhile, endorsed Netanyahu for prime minister earlier Thursday, all but guaranteeing that the Likud leader would in fact be the next premier.
But Lieberman conditioned his support for Netanyahu on the Likud leader forging a broad coalition, including his rival, Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni.
“[There are] three possibilities from our point of view: A broad government, which is what we want. A narrow government, that will be a government of paralysis, but we don’t rule out sitting in it. And the third option is going to elections, which will achieve nothing,” the far-rightist told Peres.
Lieberman has emerged as the kingmaker of Israeli politics after the Feb. 10 election produced a deadlock between its two largest parties, and his backing of Netanyahu could be basis for a hardline government.
“We want a government of the three biggest parties, Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu,” Lieberman added, without disclosing what he would do if a unity government proved impossible to achieve.
While touring the southern city of Sderot with U.S. Senator John Kerry, Livni said “Kadima represents a number of things Israel needs, from advancing the peace process and fighting terror to domestic issues that have to be addressed.”
“Kadima won’t provide cover for a government of paralysis,” she said.
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit of Kadima said Lieberman’s announcement backing Netanyahu did not come as a surprise.
“I knew from the start that this would be [Lieberman’s] decision, and I don’t understand why everyone is surprised,” Sheetrit said.
He added: “Lieberman was never my cup of tea.”
Likud officials welcomed Lieberman’s announcement Thursday, and said the party would seek to forge a broad coalition regardless of the precondition set by Yisrael Beiteinu.
A Likud statement following the announcement said that Netanyahu would now attempt to convince Labor to join a coalition headed by him, and that a Netanyahu-Livni meeting would likely take place soon.
Kadima MK Yisrael Katz said party chairwoman Tzipi Livni would have to decide whether or not to join a government under Netanyahu.
“It is now up to [Livni] to make up her mind. Netanyahu has already made the magnanimous decision to ask her to join him in a broad coalition,” Katz said.
The right-wing Jewish Home, Shas and National Union parties also said they would recommend Netanyahu on Thursday.
“I hope that a Netanyahu government will be broad and large, and meet with blessing,” said Eli Yishai, the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox party, during a meeting with Peres.
Left-wing parties Labor and Meretz, meanwhile, said that they would not recommend any candidate for the position.
“The situation is already complicated and disturbing, with Yisrael Beiteinu recommending Israel’s next prime minister. Our only option is to refrain from recommending anyone,” said Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
“The picture is clear, and we are going to the opposition. In this reality, in my opinion, there is just one possibility, not to recommend any of the candidates for prime minister,” added Barak, whose party garnered only 13 seats in the election. He made the comments in a faction meeting.
Meretz official Ilan Gilon informed Peres of the party’s decision during a meeting with him on Thursday morning.
Peres intends to complete his consultations with all the faction representatives by Thursday night.
This story "Livni: Kadima Will Go Into Opposition" was written by Haaretz Correspondents.