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'Obama trip helps Netanyahu with coalition'
By LAHAV HARKOV AND GIL HOFFMAN
02/07/2013
Senior Likud official says that PM wanted Lapid and Livni to join the coalition and "now it will be easier to get them."
 
US President Barack Obama’s decision to visit Israel will help expedite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to build a broad national-unity government, senior Likud officials said on Wednesday.

The White House denied accusations that the announcement of Obama’s intention to visit Israel was aimed at pressuring Netanyahu to build a more dovish coalition.

But Likud officials said Netanyahu did not need to be pushed, because he already intended to include three Center- Left parties in his government: Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Kadima and The Tzipi Livni Party.

“He wanted Lapid and Livni and now it will be easier to get them,” a senior Likud source said. “Obama’s visit sends a message to them that serious developments are taking place and they need to join as soon as possible to have an impact.”

Netanyahu has made an effort to focus on key diplomatic and security issues since the election, in an effort to create a business-asusual atmosphere that could help Likud Beytenu in the coalition talks. He has said repeatedly that the events in the Middle East do not stop for the coalition negotiations, and therefore the parties must behave responsibly by compromising.

While whenever there were developments with Obama in the past, MKs on the Right went out of their way to criticize the US president, this time even the most outspoken Obama critics in the Knesset made a point of being reserved. A Likud official said it was because politicians were too scared to talk while decisions were being made about who would receive portfolios and Knesset committee chairmanships.

“I am glad Obama learned his lesson and is coming to visit his country’s closest ally in the Middle East,” said Likud MK Danny Danon, who wrote an anti- Obama book in English last year.

“The president will see that since the last time he came in 2008 when he was a presidential candidate, things in the region have gotten more complex.”

While the right-wing My Israel organization has come out against Obama’s visit, its founder, Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, said she had no problem with the president coming.

“It is an honor for Israel,” Shaked said carefully.

As for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Shaked said that “if Netanyahu wants to talk, he should talk,” as long as the prime minister stands up for his principles.

“When Ehud Barak was prime minister, he offered [then-PA president Yasser] Arafat everything, and Arafat refused. When Ehud Olmert was prime minister, he offered [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] everything, and he refused. There is no chance Netanyahu will offer the same,” Shaked said.

The Bayit Yehudi MK pointed out that Netanyahu refused to freeze settlement construction a second time, despite PA demands and US pressure.

Still, Shaked said it was important to have Bayit Yehudi in the coalition while these issues were being dealt with, so the party could stand staunchly to Netanyahu’s right.

MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor), who is acting Knesset speaker until the coalition is formed, asked Netanyahu to request that Obama give a speech in the Knesset.

Then-US presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush addressed the Knesset in the past.

“The Israeli people certainly are thirsty to hear the president of the US speak to it directly, and there is no better place for him to do it than the Knesset,” Ben-Eliezer said.

MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu), who was speaker of the 18th Knesset and is considered the leading candidate for the post in the 19th, also called for Obama to speak in the legislature.

Rivlin said the Knesset was an arena for arguments and decisions, and the only place to present diplomatic plans with decisive ramifications.

“All world leaders who visited Israel, including US presidents that preceded [Obama], and [then] Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, visited the Knesset, out of understanding that it is the House of Representatives of the Nation of Israel and the source of the State of Israel’s power as a democratic country,” Rivlin said.
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