Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of Israel Beitenu, and Eli Yishai, chairman of Shas, rejected on Tuesday Binyamin Netanyahu's offer to form a coalition against Kadima.
Netanyahu, chairman of the Likud party, tried to get the two to promise not to form a coalition with Kadima. He also asked them to recommend him to President Moshe Katsav, who will officially decide which party will form the ruling coalition. He was rejected on both counts.
Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu was seeking a deal that would empower him to form a government with Israel Beiteinu and Shas following the elections in talks he has held with the parties over the last two days.
A Shas spokesman told The Jerusalem Post
that Netanyahu spoke with party leader Eli Yishai both on Sunday and Monday with an eye toward including Shas in an agreement that would allow Netanyahu to go to President Moshe Katsav with enough mandates to show that he can form a government after the election.
Yishai told Netanyahu he was waiting until the election results were in, the spokesman said. "We are saying the same thing to everyone. We are waiting to see what the nation will decide and then we will weigh our options," the spokesman added.
Israel Beiteinu confirmed that a face-to-face meeting had taken place between Netanyahu and its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, but would not speak of the substance of the meeting.
Lieberman told Netanyahu that "stress and panic do not help the elections."
Both Israel Beiteinu and Shas are polling at 9-10 mandates, according to last Thursday's Post
poll. The Likud has 17-18 mandates. The combined power of the three parties would equal 35-38 mandates, more than the 34-35 mandates the poll granted Kadima, the leading party.
The Likud would not confirm the substance of the conversations it held with Israel Beiteinu and Shas, but only stated that such talks had taken place. It also called on all right-wing parties to state that they will not sit in a coalition with Kadima.
Kadima, in turn, attacked Netanyahu following the reports.
"It's further proof that there have been attempts by Netanyahu to force himself on the public using cowardly political tricks that are against the will of the voters in order to crown himself prime minister," said the party in a statement it released to the press. "Netanyahu has taken a whiff of the forthcoming loss and is trying to find a way out in order survive at the expense of the Israeli democracy. The only way to prevent the rise of the extreme right is to vote for Kadima."
National Union and National Religious Party head Benny Elon, however, said he would be pleased to make a deal with Shas, the Likud, Israel Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism in an effort to block Kadima and the Left from taking hold of the government.
Elon told the Post he had not spoken with Netanyahu, but would seek such a meeting following Purim. His party also has 9-10 mandates, which would raise the power of such a bloc to 44-49 mandates. UTJ, which is polling at 5-6 mandates, would raise the power of such a bloc to 49-55 mandates, bringing it very close to the 61 needed to form a government.
It's not too early, he said, to come right out and tell the voters who would be in the next governmental bloc. He believes voters would be encouraged to see how close to fruition a right-wing government could be. "If people do not see there is hope for a coalition they will stay home," he said. "This is not an illusion. [Acting Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert will not be prime minister."
But it was true, Elon said, that even as the parties would be strengthened by forming a joint covenant prior to the elections in the interim it was logical that each one was out campaigning for their own votes. In specific, the NU-NRP urges voters to support the NU-NRP, he said, telling them that the party was the true home of the right, but its most important objective was swaying voters to seek out any right-wing party.
Similarly, Netanyahu was urging voters not to support Israel Beiteinu even as he was talking with Lieberman. On Sunday he also called on right-wing voters to cast their support for the Likud rather than other right-wing parties.
"Whoever intends to vote for one of the small parties, it's as if he is giving his vote to Kadima," he said. "He should stay at home and not vote. We cannot let other parties on the Right take our votes and give them to the Left after the election. We call upon all the voters of the nationalist camp to cast the only vote that could prevent the big withdrawal."
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein in a party commercial called upon his neighbors in Judea and Samaria to realize that the way to guarantee their future was to elect a large ruling party.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.