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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
High-tech employees lunching at the series of sleek sushi bars, restaurants and cafes scattered along Rehov Habarzel in Tel Aviv reacted with a mixture of sympathy, polite refusal and apathy to the offer made them by Meretz chair Yossi Beilin, who arrived here on Monday as part of a last-minute effort to attract voters.
"Can I sell you Meretz? We have a special deal through Tuesday," he joked, handing out the party's green brochure. For swing voters still undecided about the ballots they will cast on Tuesday, Beilin pulled out a specially designed pamphlet, called "a guide for swing voters."
"I am going 100% with Kadima and Labor," Beilin told his interlocutors. "The question is how much weight you want to give to each element of this government."
Beilin said that Meretz would support a Kadima-led coalition in performing a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. Failing any possibility of reaching an agreement with Hamas or with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, he said, Israel should undertake a unilateral withdrawal within six months, and withdraw from between 80 percent and 90% of the West Bank, including Ariel. Meretz, he said, would aim to draw the border as close as possible to the Green Line.
Beilin also said he did not believe Hamas would come to an agreement with Israel.
Yet, following incoming PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh's speech on Monday in which he referred to a possible reduction of tension between Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Beilin released a statement saying that, "while Haniyeh's talk about peace is interesting, the true test of Hamas will be a determined prevention of Palestinian violence and terror."
If indeed it turned out that Hamas was changing its policy and opposing terror, it would be able to become a partner and Israel would have to negotiate with it in order to reach an agreement, Beilin said.
He also promised potential voters that Meretz would not join a Kadima-led coalition that included any of the right-wing parties.
While the polls currently predict Meretz will win six mandates, he said he was still hoping for between eight and 10.
Beilin told The Jerusalem Post that the restoration of welfare budgets cut by former finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu would be a condition for Meretz joining the government, and that the necessary money for this could come from what he described as an "unrealistically inflated" defense budget. If there were no other option, he said, he would also be in favor of overturning some of the tax cuts instituted by Netanyahu, which he described as "exaggerated."
In view of the threat posed to Meretz by small parties such as the Greens or Green Leaf, Beilin tried to dissuade potential voters for these parties, asking them to give their vote to Meretz instead - the same request he made of voters vacillating between Labor and Meretz.
Beilin also told the Post he was not currently aiming for any particular role in a Kadima-led government.
"Portfolios are important, but they won't be part of our conditions [for joining the coalition]," he said.