Livni, Netanyahu to meet next week

Kadima wont join witho

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
December 25, 2009 00:48
4 minute read.

 
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Kadima and opposition leader Tzipi Livni has agreed to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening, various sources reported on Friday afternoon. Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser personally requested that Livni attend the meeting, which will center on Netanyahu's offer to include Kadima in a government which would jointly combat issues both at home and abroad. On Thursday, the prime minister asked Livni to join a national-unity government, to cooperate in handling the Iranian threat and the Palestinian refusal to negotiate, in a meeting at his office in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu said that as when Menachem Begin's Gahal party entered the government ahead of the Six Day War without taking portfolios, Kadima should do the same and would be provided two slots in the security cabinet, just as Gahal received. He said the basis for the government would be his June 14 Bar-Ilan University speech in which he expressed support for a demilitarized Palestinian state. Livni responded that she would consider it if Netanyahu was serious. But in a speech to the Kadima council at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters, she said she still believed that had she joined the government when it was formed, she would have betrayed her constituency. When she mistakenly said she had served in Netanyahu's government (she meant to say Olmert), she corrected herself and said, "God forbid." "I told Netanyahu that if this offer is part of his effort to crumble Kadima, I won't be part of that game," Livni told the Kadima council. "To test whether the offer is serious, we have to find out whether we would be partners in what has to be done to counter the threats Israel is facing, including negotiations with the Palestinians. So I am not slamming the door, and I am taking it seriously." But the MKs closest to Livni responded more bluntly. Kadima faction head Dalia Itzik said that Netanyahu was "merely engaged in political spin" and that she had advised Livni before the meeting that if he offered a unity government, she should call his bluff and say yes immediately. "If they think they can have us for nothing, they are mistaken," MK Yoel Hasson said. "We will only join if it's a real national-unity government based on equality. We don't need a rotation in the Prime Minister's Office, but our number of ministers would have to be equal to that of the Likud." Coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin responded to Hasson that "it is strange to hear those who insisted earlier in the week that joining the government was dependent on ideology and the good of the country admitting that portfolios matter more." While some of the Kadima lawmakers appeared to back down from their original intention to leave the party on Thursday, MK Eli Aflalo said he would never return to Kadima, MK Otniel Schneller boycotted the council meeting, and MK Ronit Tirosh warned that "if Livni says no to Netanyahu's offer without a satisfactory reason, the party will split." Netanyahu's offer came amid his efforts to persuade at least seven Kadima MKs to split their party and join the coalition - an effort that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz deemed legal but unseemly. When asked whether he would continue with the move if Livni turned down his offer of a national-unity government, the prime minister's associates said he was still determined to expand the coalition, and Livni's rejection could persuade more Kadima MKs to leave the party. "This is a test for Livni - whether she genuinely puts the country first, or whether she will miss another opportunity," a source close to Netanyahu said. "He offered Livni half his kingdom eight months ago and she said no, because she insisted on being prime minister. Now there is a government serving harmoniously, but he is serious and ready to meet Livni tomorrow to draft a deal." Livni updated Kadima No. 2 Shaul Mofaz about Netanyahu's offer immediately upon leaving the Prime Minister's Office. Earlier on Thursday, Livni had a tense meeting with Mofaz at her Tel Aviv home in which he told her that she had failed as party leader and demanded a rematch for the party leadership within three months. "Kadima is falling apart," Mofaz said. "I advised the chairwoman of Kadima how to maintain unity in the party. I very much hope that, for the first time, she listens to others. I hope that this way we can get to have leadership that knows how to make the right decisions and lead Kadima to where it has to be." Livni responded that she would not rule out taking Mofaz's advice, but that they would have to deal with the matter after the split in the party was averted. "Bibi is trying to break up Kadima, and that's a fact," Livni told Mofaz. "You, me and all the party's leaders must stand up to this effort and not, even if it's not intentional, help him weaken Kadima. "Now there is one mission: keeping Kadima unified. And that's incumbent upon everyone to whom Kadima is important."

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