Livni and Barak agree to cooperate

Kadima, Labor will try and form coalition; Peres to formally entrust Livni with assembling gov't.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
September 21, 2008 12:38
4 minute read.
Livni and Barak agree to cooperate

Barak 224 88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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The hostility between new Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and Labor chairman Ehud Barak subsided late Sunday night after the two met in a positive atmosphere and agreed to make a serious effort to form a new government. President Shimon Peres is expected to formally entrust Livni with forming a government on Monday night following consultations with the heads of the Knesset's 13 factions. Peres began the consultations after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tendered his resignation to him on Sunday evening. Following the 30-minute meeting, Peres met with journalists and said this was a "difficult evening" for Olmert, and that he appreciated "the respectful way in which he is handing over his power." Peres read from a prepared text and thanked Olmert "for his service to the people and the state over the course of many years of public activities." By submitting his letter of resignation to the president, Olmert set the process of selecting a new prime minister in motion. Even as he was in Beit Hanassi with Peres, Kadima faction members - including Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim and Tzahi Hanegbi - were waiting in the foyer for their meeting with Peres to recommend that the president ask Livni to form a government. In addition to meeting the Kadima faction, Peres also met with Labor, Likud and Shas representatives on Sunday night. Olmert reportedly decided to expedite his resignation at Livni's request. He will remain prime minister of a caretaker government until Livni can form a new coalition within 42 days or until a new government is formed after a general election. Livni's chances of forming a government improved significantly after she agreed with Barak that it was in the interest of both of them and the country that a coalition be formed as soon as possible. Tension between the two had risen over the weekend when Barak decided to meet with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu before meeting with her. Barak's associates said he sought and received a commitment from Livni that she would form a stable government that would last for more than just a few months and that any decision on a date for a general election would be coordinated between Labor and Kadima. Livni's promise eased Barak's fears that she would form a government and then immediately go to elections in order to go into the race as a sitting prime minister against former prime ministers Barak and Netanyahu. Barak's associates said he was looking forward to entering the government because he believes that Livni would be dependent on his security expertise, especially following the departure of Transportation Minister and former IDF chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz. Barak also called for changes in priorities ahead of the voting on the 2009 state budget, and Livni agreed. She also denied reports that she would give Kadima's current coalition partners an ultimatum to form a government within 10 days or face elections. While the 42 days that Livni has to form a government would give her until November 14, because Shabbat and holidays are not included in the figure, her real goal is to complete the task before the Knesset returns to session on October 27. "In the face of all the difficult economic, political and security challenges, we must act quickly to establish a stable government," Livni told Kadima ministers Sunday morning. "I expect our coalition partners to act accordingly. I intend to decide quickly, even if it seems that time is working in our favor in the coalition negotiations. We must make a decision and take the country out of this position of uncertainty." Livni hopes to form a government with the 64 MKs in the current coalition plus Meretz, Justice for the Pensioners and the United Torah Judaism faction, with whom she is set to meet on Monday afternoon. Adding the 14 MKs from those factions would give her insurance in case Labor or Shas decided to bolt the coalition. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai told reporters on Sunday that he was not afraid of elections but that he would not push for them either. Likud leaders Binyamin Netanyahu, Silvan Shalom and Gideon Sa'ar met with Shas mentor Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and told him that only immediate elections could save Jerusalem from being divided. In a meeting with Peres, Yishai decided not to recommend that Livni form a government, because he had not received commitments from her on diplomatic and socioeconomic issues, but he also said Shas opposed elections. Kadima representatives recommended Livni, Likud MKs pushed Peres for elections and Labor's team told the president they recommended Barak even though he was prohibited from forming a government because he was not an MK. They said the law could be changed to accommodate him. Peres is set to meet with representatives of the other nine Knesset factions on Monday before appointing Livni to form a government and then leaving to head Israel's delegation to the UN General Assembly in New York. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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