Netanyahu Joe Lieberman 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni decided on Sunday night to continue meeting in the next few days, in an effort to forge a national unity government, after discussions between the two at the capital's Inbal Hotel that Netanyahu described as positive and Livni as negative.
Netanyahu said after his meeting with Livni that they would meet again in upcoming days in an effort to find common ground en route to the formation of a coalition.
"This is the will of the people," Netanyahu said. "One who is looking for disputes can find them, but it is possible to reach a joint path."
But Livni said after the meeting that they had "deep differences on diplomatic issues."
She said she was also unsatisfied with his answers on electoral reform and civil unions.
"Tonight's meeting did not get me closer to sitting in the government or give me the answers I was looking for on the issues that really matter," Livni said.
A source close to Netanyahu responded that their main difference on the diplomatic issue was whether the coalition guidelines would call for "two states for two peoples," as Livni wanted, or something more vague, as Netanyahu did.
Livni and Netanyahu met alone for an hour and 45 minutes. Even their bodyguards left the room. The dinner they ate together was vegetarian at Livni's request.
He said he would allow her to draft the coalition guidelines together with him.
Earlier, in a meeting of the Kadima faction, Livni received backing for her tough stance against joining the next government from every MK except Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and his ally, MK Ronit Tirosh.
"These days are a test for Kadima," Livni told the lawmakers. "People are looking at us. We spoke during the campaign about content and ideology, about the difference between hope and despair, and between 'two states for two peoples' and no path at all. We received a wave of support on the condition that we keep our promises. If we compromise and concede on our ideology by joining a government with a path that is not ours, it would violate the trust of our voters."
Livni said she did not care about which portfolios Netanyahu offered her. She promised that the party would support whatever the government did right, from the opposition.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon supported Livni by saying that since 1992, every party that came to power had done so from the opposition. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On added that Kadima needed to learn from the price paid by Labor for joining every government and refusing to build itself in the opposition.
"We can have more influence from the opposition than the coalition," Bar-On said. "We can sharpen the differences in our ideologies that way. I doubt Bibi can promise you anything that will change my mind, but if you come back with the gospel, we can meet again and reconsider."
Mofaz has criticized Livni in closed conversations for not giving Netanyahu a chance and needlessly dooming Kadima to the opposition. He spoke in a more reserved fashion in the faction meeting.
"There is a need to consider dialogue with the Likud and to check where we could have more influence," Mofaz said. "Our conditions should be continuing the diplomatic process and changing the electoral system. These are our interests and those of the country, and we have to keep in mind that in the end, there is a country [to be run]."
Tirosh told Livni personally and reiterated in the meeting that Kadima needed to do everything possible to remain part of the government, rather than allow right-wing parties to join.
"We shouldn't wait in the opposition for Bibi to stumble and fall, because we shouldn't want the country to have problems," Tirosh said.
Mofaz and Tirosh were "just letting off steam," Livni's associates said.
Netanyahu, who said throughout the campaign that he wanted Kadima, Labor, or both in his government, will meet on Monday morning at the capital's King David Hotel with Labor chairman Ehud Barak. The Labor leader has publicly ruled out joining the coalition, but Channel 10 reported that in closed conversations, he has put out feelers about whether his party would let him get out of his commitment.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seemed to endorse Netanyahu's efforts to form a national-unity government in Sunday's cabinet meeting, a week after Livni pleaded with him to stay out of the coalition talks.
"As one who was involved in forming coalitions and governments for decades, I am aware not only of the complexity of the task but also of its urgency and its importance," Olmert said. "Forming a coalition is, in effect, laying the foundation upon which the State of Israel will stand in the coming years. Therefore, and for the benefit of the Israeli people, I would like to congratulate MK Binyamin Netanyahu and wish him success."
"We are ready for an orderly transfer of power, and all government bodies are intensively engaged so that the new government may enter office as quickly as possible," the prime minister said.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.