In a meeting with the National Union-National Religious Party delegation on Monday, President Moshe Katsav pointed out that some delegations have the wrong idea about the consultative talks he is conducting with the different parties.
It's not about counting votes, said Katsav, adding that if that was the case, he wouldn't need to meet with anyone - they could just send him a fax.
Katsav made it clear that the talks were not a mere formality, but a genuine attempt to find the person most capable of forming a strong, stable and long-lasting government.
NU-NRP leaders Benny Elon and Zevulun Orlev subsequently told reporters that they had thrown their weight behind Labor Party leader Amir Peretz after checking with Katsav whether the Labor delegation with whom he had met the previous day had indeed specified that Peretz was willing to establish an emergency socioeconomic coalition.
Katsav's reply was in the affirmative.
The support for Peretz will be conditional, stipulated Orlev, noting that his party and Labor had completely conflicting views on ceding territory. While his party would not try to prevent Peretz from negotiating with the Palestinian Authority, he said, it wanted a commitment by Peretz that any agreements reached with the PA with regard to withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would be put to a referendum.
Both Elon and Orlev said that they wanted to make sure that they were not being exploited by Labor in its efforts to secure the Finance Ministry. "This is not a time for political manipulation," said Elon.
To be absolutely certain that Peretz would create a government whose first priority is social welfare, Elon and Orlev asked Katsav to invite both Peretz and Kadima head Ehud Olmert to outline the government policies they had in mind, followed by a second NU-NRP meeting with the president later this week. According to Elon, Katsav said that he would consider both requests.
Before leaving, Elon was asked by reporters whether he would agree to Arab parties being included in the emergency coalition. "So long as the government is based on social welfare, we will not rule anyone out," he said.
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