Lawyers for Kadima, Labor to meet

Midway through talks, Labor says there is no progress; Kadima insists coalition-agreement soon.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 6, 2008 00:34
3 minute read.
Lawyers for Kadima, Labor to meet

livni speaks 224.88. (photo credit: Channel 10)

Two weeks after President Shimon Peres formally entrusted Kadima leader Tzipi Livni with forming a new government on September 22, Labor officials said Sunday night that no serious progress had been made. So far, coalition negotiations between Kadima and Labor have been conducted in two one-on-one tracks: Between Livni and Labor chairman Ehud Barak and between their representatives, former cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon for Kadima and former coalition chairman Efi Oshaya of Labor. Labor officials revealed Sunday night that Livni has admitted privately that she made a mistake when she ruled out forming formal coalition negotiating teams, as has been customary ahead of the formation of recent governments. Livni refrained from doing so to flex her muscles at her coalition partners and emphasize to them that there was no reason to change the current coalition guidelines. But Barak and Shas have not budged from their demands and Livni has not given into them either. "She is starting to realize that her approach until now hasn't worked and that we need the intensive meetings that only a formal and official team can conduct," a political source close to the talks said. Livni's associates denied Labor's claims. They said the talks have been purposely discrete between the party chairmen and will stay that way. "When the heads of the parties are handling things quietly, it just makes it look like nothing is happening and it's not true," a Livni associate said. "When Barak decides that he is actually in favor of joining the government, then it might get more formal and we will draft things. It might still happen that you will wake up one morning and there will be a government. If it does, we will be very pleased." In a move that marks a strategic change in the approach to the coalition talks, Labor and Kadima officials were set to meet for the first time in teams on Monday. Maimon was due to be joined by his partner for coalition talks with Shas, attorney Yoram Raved. Oshaya was set to be accompanied by attorney Alon Gellert, who served as chief legal counsel of the Prime Minister's Office under Barak. Gellert and Raved will be entrusted with drafting the coalition agreement between Labor and Kadima that Livni and Barak have been negotiating. Maimon and Raved were also expected to meet Monday with teams from Shas, Meretz and United Torah Judaism, pending an improvement in the health of hospitalized UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz. Livni has until October 20 to form a new government, but she can legally ask Peres for two more weeks and she is expected to do so. The final deadline of November 3 would allow her a full week to continue negotiations once the Knesset has returned to session, but Livni would prefer to complete the process before the Knesset's winter term begins on October 27. At a Foreign Ministry conference on policy and strategy, Livni lashed out at her coalition partners, accusing them of putting their own political concerns ahead of the national interest. "We need economic stability, which cannot be achieved without political stability," Livni said. "It is important to create political stability quickly to deal with the challenges from inside and out. A responsible government must maintain stability beyond the immediate political needs of some parties that I am negotiating with in the coalition talks." Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who lost the September 17 primary to Livni, returned to the cabinet after a short time-out from politics. He made a point of absenting himself from the weekly meeting of Kadima ministers, because he has not yet decided his political future. Last Thursday, in a meeting with six MKs who backed him in the race, Mofaz said he was motivated to return by the statements Olmert made to Yediot Aharonot about giving up almost all the disputed territories in the West Bank. Mofaz said Olmert's statements angered him and made him realize that he needed to be part of the negotiating team with the Palestinians. Channel 1 reported Sunday night that Shas chairman Eli Yishai asked Mofaz on Sunday to request the Finance portfolio. Yishai's spokesman denied the report. In a hearing on Sunday at Kadima's internal court about the irregularities in the party's primary, Mofaz's lawyers said that if the court initiated another Kadima primary, he would run again. Herb Keinon contributed to this report


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