'Hard conditions await next government'

Netanyahu says he intends to form coalition as soon as possible to deal with "emergency" situation.

March 1, 2009 00:20
'Hard conditions await next government'

Livni Netanyahu 248.88 . (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the new government would receive a country in a very difficult situation, both economically and security-wise. "An emergency situation necessitates emergency preparation, so I intend to form a government as soon as possible," he said. At the end of a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, Netanyahu called for all his would-be coalition partners to act "responsibly," since Israel was facing difficult challenges. On Saturday, a day after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni told Netanyahu that she would not bring her party into his government, both her Kadima rival, Shaul Mofaz, and Labor chairman Ehud Barak engendered hope that a national-unity government could still be formed. Sources close to Barak said they expected pressure on Labor to join the government-in-formation to grow over the next few days, creating an atmosphere that would make it difficult for the party's leaders to refuse generous offers from the Likud. Likud officials have been lobbying Labor MKs intensely in recent days and have made it clear that more than half of the party's 13 MKs could be ministers or deputy ministers. They have also emphasized that Barak was badly needed in the Defense Ministry due to the looming Iranian threat. "In the next few days, Barak could say that at such a fateful time it would be irresponsible to allow Netanyahu to form a right-wing government that could endanger the country's future," a Barak confidant predicted on Saturday night. "He is not ready to say it yet, but pressure will grow over the next few days. Reality will require us to join in the end, but meanwhile we have to play it cool." Barak's associates stressed that he had not yet made a decision about whether to join the government, but they said that if he did decide to join, eight or nine Labor MKs would support him, perhaps even including MK Ophir Paz-Pines, one of the most vocal opponents of Labor entering a Netanyahu coalition. One senior Labor official stressed over the weekend that serving as second fiddle in an opposition led by Kadima would render the already-dwindling party completely irrelevant. "Our possibility is between quick suicide with Netanyahu or slow death with Livni," he said. On the other side of the table, sources close to Netanyahu admitted that he preferred Labor to Kadima in his coalition all along, but that he had been aware it would be tough for Barak to persuade his party to join the government if it did not get at least 15 seats, and it won only 13. Likud officials said they were also still hoping that Mofaz could force Livni to form a coalition negotiating team. Mofaz will push Livni to form such a team - or at least appoint a mediator - in Monday's Kadima faction meeting. His confidants said that Kadima ministers had finally realized since Livni turned down Netanyahu on Friday that this was their last chance to speak up and prevent the party from going to the opposition. "What the Likud offered can certainly be a basis for talks," Mofaz said in closed conversations over the weekend. "The people want unity and before you slam the door on it, you have to at least check whether we can find common ground with the Likud." Mofaz said over the weekend "he was convinced that the party will still join the coalition. Good sense will win out. The diplomatic issue was not an excuse to not join. "Netanyahu will talk to the Palestinians and try to reach a deal with them. He knows that this is his last opportunity. When he gets to the White House and talks to Obama it will lead to him removing outposts. "He knows he needs the world's support, because what matters most to Netanyahu is the Iranian threat," Mofaz added. "As long as he is willing to do that and to change the governmental system, there is no reason to stay out of the government." Livni reportedly met with Mofaz and other members of Kadima who opposed the decision to go into the opposition, telling them that should Israel decide to attack Iran, Kadima would throw its support behind Netanyahu's administration. This flurry of events followed the collapse of talks between Likud and Kadima after Friday's meeting between Netanyahu and Livni, billed as a last-ditch attempt to form a unity government, ended without a breakthrough. Livni said Netanyahu failed to make a commitment that his government's platform would include pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. "I came for a second meeting with the Likud leader to hear his vision and the way he believes is correct," Livni said after the meeting in Tel Aviv. "Israel is facing challenges and I told him that Kadima would support the correct moves made by the government. "But to deal with the challenges, I wanted three basic principles that you [already] know about," she told reporters. "Two states for two peoples is not an empty slogan. It is the only way Israel can remain Jewish and fight terrorism. It's a fundamental issue." Livni said a unity government would have been possible provided it included plans for a two-state solution, changes to the electoral system, and Interior Ministry reforms. She lamented, however, that Netanyahu was not committed on those subjects, and pledged to be "a responsible" opposition. "This meeting has ended without agreements on issues that I see as essential," she said. "There could be a government that advances these issues. At the moment, based on the discussions I held in the adjacent room, that government won't be Netanyahu's." Nevertheless, Netanyahu said after the meeting that he had been "prepared to go very far" to form a unity government, indicating that, despite her pre- and post-election promises, Livni did not have such "willingness for unity," which he said was particularly vital now, considering the escalating Iranian threat and growing unemployment. Netanyahu insisted that he had offered her "full partnership" in setting the new government's guidelines. "Unity requires compromise and I was prepared to go in that direction," he said. "I also offered an equal number of ministries, including two out of the top three, I said I intended to move peace negotiations forward, and that we would act to advance civil unions and to introduce electoral reforms." "If there's a will, there's a way; and if there is a will, there is unity," he continued. "In my opinion, the gaps can be bridged, but I was met with total rejection and a refusal to even agree to set up dialogue teams in order to strike a partnership," he said. "I didn't find that Livni had the willingness for unity."

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