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(photo credit: AP)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima head Tzipi Livni will hold talks aimed at forming a national-unity government after President Shimon Peres, as expected, appoints Netanyahu to put together a coalition, senior officials close to the two party leaders said on Saturday night.
The head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin, will visit Beit Hanassi at 6 p.m. Wednesday to officially inform Peres that the results of the election had been published in the government registry.
Peres has invited the Kadima and Likud factions to his residence that night and the other factions the following day so he could appoint a candidate to form a government as soon as possible.
"Once the president entrusts him with forming a government, Netanyahu will meet with Livni before the heads of the other parties and ask her to join him," a senior Likud official said.
"He already fulfilled his promise to turn first to his natural partners on the Right, and now he will do what he has to do to fulfill his promise to form a national-unity government."
The Likud released a statement Saturday night calling it "unfortunate that Livni is not accepting the will of most of the nation who want Netanyahu as prime minister at the helm of a national-unity government."
"Netanyahu would be willing to come toward Kadima to bring it into a national-unity government under his leadership," the statement said. "But Livni must first put petty politics aside in favor of the national interest."
Livni will convene the Kadima faction Sunday for the first time since the party won the most votes in Tuesday's election. She is expected to insist at the meeting that Peres should appoint her to form a government, despite the 65-55 victory of the Right bloc over the Left in the election.
While Livni will speak out against intentions in the Likud to form a government with hawkish and haredi parties before turning to Kadima, she will not rule out the possibility of joining a national-unity government led by Netanyahu if she believes in its coalition guidelines and if he turns to Kadima before the Right.
"I don't see her saying something that is not nuanced and careful," a senior Kadima official said. "There will be a meeting between Tzipi and Bibi. We need to see whether a Likud-led government would continue with the diplomatic process, including talks on Jerusalem and with Syria."
Some Kadima MKs like Eli Aflalo intend to call for Livni to rule out joining any government led by Netanyahu in hopes of returning to power strengthened from serving in the opposition. Others will ask her to insist on a rotation, whereby she and Netanyahu would each serve as prime minister for two years.
But the majority of the faction has said in closed conversations over the past week that Kadima will end up joining a Netanyahu-led government on the basis of equality between the two parties with Likud retaining the premiership and Finance Ministry and Kadima being given the Foreign and Defense ministries.
Several top Kadima ministers and MKs came out publicly in favor of such a scenario over the weekend. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim met on Thursday in Tel Aviv in an attempt to push Kadima to join a Likud-led government as a central partner.
"Kadima has always said it puts the country before the party," Boim told The Jerusalem Post. "We have to decide where we serve the country better. I think the best way to serve the public is to help form a wide national-unity government and not to allow a right-wing extremist and haredi government to be formed."
Negev and Galilee Development Minister Ya'acov Edri said he preferred a rotation between Livni and Netanyahu but said a national-unity government had to be formed regardless of who would be prime minister.
"For the good of the country, we need to sit together and form a government," Edri said. "We can't forget that Kadima won the election, but we also cannot ignore the rest of the results. That's what the majority of the faction believes."
Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi told Channel 2 that both Livni and Netanyahu would have to compromise on what they hoped for before the election.
"Without national unity, the government will not be able to function," Hanegbi said. "Livni and Netanyahu must sit together, just like Peres and Rabin did and Peres and Shamir did."
Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who heads Kadima's negotiating team, also hinted that Kadima could join a Netanyahu-led government if the Likud leader would meet with Livni before reaching a deal with right-wing parties.
"I think most of Kadima doesn't want to join a right-wing extremist coalition that Netanyahu is forming," he told Army Radio. "If [Netanyahu] wanted to appeal to Israelis, he would form the national-unity government that is so important, but instead he is going to the Right first.
"We won't join a right-wing, haredi government that will paralyze the nation, prevent changing the system of government as well as making any changes on civil issues."
Regarding the question of who should head the government, Ramon said "That's what negotiations are for. I am sure that through negotiations between Livni, Netanyahu and [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman, we can reach agreements for the benefit of Israel."
Israel Beiteinu negotiating team chair Stas Meseznikov also told Army Radio that "the public wants the three largest parties together. The heads of Likud and Kadima should get together and decide who will be prime minister."
Maariv reported on Friday that secret talks between Netanyahu, Livni and Barak on forming a national-unity government without Lieberman were being held.
Netanyahu completed his round of coalition talks with right-wing and haredi parties on Friday, sitting down with the three Habayit Hayehudi MKs-to-be for what they called an "excellent" meeting at Jerusalem's King David Hotel.
The three - Prof. Daniel Hershkovitz, Zevulun Orlev and Uri Orbach - said they would recommend Netanyahu for prime minister, but that they wanted Kadima to join the government, something their rivals in the National Union Party oppose.
The party ruled out uniting with Likud to become the largest Knesset faction.
"Because Habayit Hayehudi is a party based on trustworthiness and loyalty to the promises made to voters, even at the start of the meeting we informed Netanyahu that we would recommend him to Peres," Hershkovitz said.
Shelly Paz and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report