(photo credit: AP)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu publicly pledged on Monday afternoon to do whatever 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.
Netanyahu briefed the faction after unsuccessful meetings with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni Sunday night and with Labor chairman Ehud Barak Monday morning.
The first meeting focused entirely on differences between Livni and Netanyahu on diplomatic issues and the second was devoted more to security issues and less to politics.
Neither meeting brought a national unity government closer.
"I want to give Livni a real chance to join us, but we cannot wait forever," Netanyahu told his faction, after a consensus of Likud MKs pressured him to give up on Livni and 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 will apparently not stop him from beginning talks with other parties on Wednesday.
When the media was present at the meeting, Netanyahu remained conciliatory towards his rivals.
"Our emergency situation requires putting aside political and personal reasons that are legitimate at a different time and that are not legitimate now," Netanyahu told the faction.
"I spoke to Livni and Barak. I intend to talk with them again in an effort to bring them together to deal with the major challenges Israel is facing. I'm not giving up. I'll make every effort and take any steps necessary toward this important goal, and I hope we get an answer."
Netanyahu's associates said, however, that he had no problem with his fallback option of a coalition with the 65 MKs on the Right. They said that knowing that the coalition was so fragile would only make the MKs more loyal.
They added that they were not concerned that forming a right-wing government would harm Israel's image abroad.
"We are not worried that our relations with the world will be hurt, because we have the right policies to advance peace and security, and we just have to explain them clearly," a senior Netanyahu adviser said.
"At the end of the day, it's the prime minister who decides the government's policies."
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said a 65-MK coalition was legitimate and not as narrow as many other coalitions in the past.
"I hope and I think that such a government could last four-and-a-half years if we remember that we all depend on each other," Edelstein said.
Following his meeting with Netanyahu at Jerusalem's King David Hotel, Barak said he told the prime minister-designate that joining his coalition was not an option.
"The voter's verdict was that Labor should go to the opposition and we should respect it," Barak said. "We will be a responsible, serious and constructive opposition."
Livni said that as opposition leader she wanted to work together with Barak to bring down Netanyahu's government as soon as possible. She mocked Labor for joining governments in the past as a second fiddle.
"The public got sick of a party that always found a compromise that allowed them to join the government," she told Army Radio on Monday morning, referring to Labor.
In another interview to Channel 2 Monday night, Livni accused Netanyahu of finalizing coalition agreements with what she called "fringe parties" on the Right before he met with her.
"If they joined together with us, we would be in the minority, no matter what the coalition guidelines would be, so we would have little to no ability to influence," Livni said.
"The choice is between being a dummy in a government that doesn't advance the [peace] process or presenting an alternative from outside the government and one day leading that process."