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(photo credit: AP)
The Likud on Wednesday gave a largely-favorable response to Israel Beiteinu's list of demands for joining a coalition headed by party leader Binyamin Netanyahu. Likud faction chairman MK Gideon Sa'ar gave the document to Israel Beiteinu's representative at the coalition talks, MK Stas Meseznikov, during a meeting.
Addressing a thorny issue that has drawn harsh criticism of Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, the document states that "all of the citizens of the country, and especially its elected leaders, must be loyal to the state."
The Likud went on to say that despite having already "led several legislative changes in this regard," it would be willing to "examine, together with its future coalition partners, the need to make amendments to the citizenship law," but that such changes would need to "conform to binding international judicial and constitutional norms."
The reply also included a positive response to Israel Beiteinu's demand to provide incentives to those who serve in the army, including full scholarships for first-year university students who have completed army or national service and further scholarships for reservists.
Responding to Israel Beiteinu's demand to establish a civil marriage system, the Likud promised to find a "quick solution" to "the problem of the personal status of some 300,000 olim who are not halachically Jewish."
The document also stated that a Likud-led government would push for a change in the electoral system in order to "improve stability and governability." This would be a top priority for the new government, the statement added.
Regarding Israel Beiteinu's demand that the Hamas regime in Gaza be overthrown, the Likud asserted that it rejects "Kadima's policy of arriving at agreements with terrorists, such as the tahadiyeh (calm) of June 2008." The statement said that Likud would "choose a different method of subduing terrorism and overthrowing the Hamas regime," but did not go into detail as to what steps would be on the agenda.
On Tuesday, Likud officials expressed anger at Lieberman for repeated hints dropped by his party's coalition negotiating team that they could back Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, due to Kadima's acceptance of Israel Beiteinu's demands on matters of religion and state. The Likud cannot make the same promises due to commitments to the haredi parties.
Later Wednesday, President Shimon Peres is set to begin his long-awaited consultations with the dozen factions in the 18th Knesset in an effort to determine whether he would task Netanyahu or Livni with forming a new government.
Delegations from Kadima and Likud will arrive at Beit Hanassi following a visit from the head of the Central Elections Committee, former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Rivlin, who will inform Peres that the results of last Tuesday's election have been published in the official government registry.
But the real action at the president's residence is set to take place on Thursday morning, when Lieberman will reveal to Peres his decision on whether he backs Netanyahu, Livni, or neither. Lieberman is scheduled to return from a vacation in Minsk on Wednesday night.
On Wednesday, Peres said that the critical issue facing the State of Israel was not only the identity of the next prime minister, but the policy of the next government.
"The problem is not only who will be the prime minister but what will be the policy of the State of Israel," Peres said in an address to a group of American Jewish leaders.
Gil Hoffman and Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report