Netanyahu tries to lure Livni into unity coalition

Sunday, February 22, 2009 |  Israel Today Staff

Two days after being officially tapped by President Shimon Peres as Israel's next prime minister, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu was pulling out all the stops in an effort to form a unity coalition with rival Tzipi Livni and her Kadima Party.

Despite Kadima winning one more seat than Likud in the recent general election, Peres chose Netanyahu after far more incoming Knesset members recommended him over Livni for the job of prime minister.

The next Knesset will lean decidedly to the right, giving Netanyahu an opportunity to form a fully right-wing government, though he prefers not to as it would be made up of numerous smaller parties all vying for concessions.

Instead, Netanyah is eyeing a solid 70-seat majority coalition made up of Likud, Kadima and Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu Party.

Likud and Israel Beiteinu are natural allies. The trick will be convincing Livni, who ran on diplomatic and economic policies that starkly contrast those of Netanyahu and his party.

Israeli media on Sunday reported that Netanyahu had suspended coalition talks with all other parties, and had offered Livni "full partnership" in the next government.

In practical terms, that translates to Kadima being brought in to participate in drafting the framework of the next government's policies, according to Ha'aretz. Netanyahu is also expected to offer Kadima two of the top three government ministries - defense, foreign affairs or finance.

While Livni declared last week that Kadima was heading for the opposition, pressure from party colleagues to accept Netanyahu's offer increased over the weekend.

As leader of the opposition, Livni would be expected to experience personal political gains, but her party would likely lose much of its current clout to rival left-wing faction Labor.

The administration of US President Barack Obama has already expressed its hope that a unity government will take power in Jerusalem so that the land-for-peace process with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world can move ahead without interruption.

Some reports even suggested Obama may personally apply pressure on Livni to join such a government so that Netanyahu cannot stand in the way of future Israeli withdrawals.

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