(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Despite the declared intention of Kadima chair Tzipi Livni to lead her party into the opposition, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is number two on the party list, said on Tuesday that he believed it would be best if Kadima joined Likud in a national unity government.
"The Israeli people want to see a unity government," Mofaz said in an interview with Army Radio, adding that "the citizens of [the State] did not give us 28 mandates so that we would sit in the opposition."
"We have great challenges, and we need to address them from within the government," he continued, emphasizing, however, that "if in the end we don't reach an agreement regarding the platform and a change in the system of government, then we will go to the opposition."
Since President Shimon Peres officially tapped Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu last Friday with the role of forming a coalition, talks initially focused on trying to woo Kadima into the fold. Livni has so far opposed a national unity government which also includes smaller right-wing parties, while Netanyahu has insisted that such parties are Likud's "natural partners," and must be invited.
The two party heads talked on Sunday about coalition possibilities, and although Livni exited the meeting saying that little progress had been made, both agreed to meet again later in the week.
Mofaz's comments came amid reports that Livni faces strong pressure from senior members to accept a national unity arrangement. Some reports have even suggested that high-ranking Kadima officials, including Mofaz, would leave the party should it opt for the opposition. Mofaz dispelled these rumors during the interview with Army Radio.
"Tzipi Livni is right to be testing, checking, and clarifying the platform on which a unity government could be built," he said. "It doesn't matter what her decision is, I'll still stay with the Kadima party."
On Monday, Netanyahu publicly pledged to do everything possible to build a national unity government with Kadima or Labor, but told the Likud faction - when the press was absent - that his patience was limited.
"I want to give Livni a real chance to join us, but we can't wait forever," Netanyahu told his faction, after a consensus of Likud MKs pressured him to give up on Livni and [Defense Minister and Labor chair Ehud] Barak and start formal negotiations with Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union.
Netanyahu will meet again with both Livni and Barak on Friday. He is expected to ask Livni to draft guidelines for the coalition together with him, but that apparently will not stop him from starting talks with other parties on Wednesday.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report