Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apparently failed to persuade Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to join a national-unity government on Sunday night, during their 100-minute meeting in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu told his advisers after the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office that he had offered Livni a full partnership and agreed to her demand to be involved in the diplomatic process that he will lead. But he said he would not allow her to run a separate diplomatic track with the Palestinians, as she did during Ehud Olmert's premiership.
"Livni is trying to stall and find excuses not to join the government," Netanyahu said. "It seems to be a repeat of March, when she looked for any excuse not to join. If she wants to find excuses, she will, but if she wants to join, she should make the decision of a leader."
The prime minister said he would not accept Livni's "stalling" and that he demanded to receive a response from her on Monday, following the Kadima faction meeting.
He refused Livni's demands to change the existing coalition's composition, guidelines, and policies on any issue. She specifically asked about changing the political system, but he was not willing to compromise.
Livni complained after the meeting that Netanyahu refused to discuss what the government's stance on negotiations with the Palestinians would be, beyond the general outline he delivered in his Bar-Ilan University speech in June. She said the current coalition was unable to make decisions important to Kadima and that she could continue to support the government from the opposition on key issues.
"This conversation could be honest or a political maneuver with a bad smell," Livni told Netanyahu. "Your attempt to try to break up Kadima and only then appeal to me doesn't demonstrate good intentions. Your threats, if you didn't understand yet, don't work on me."
Following the meeting, Livni briefed the MKs in her faction by telephone, one by one. MK Ronit Tirosh, who the Likud expects to leave Kadima, said after speaking to Livni that she was impressed by her change in attitude.
"Something has shifted in Kadima and we are hopefully starting to act like a real party with discussions, talks, fights and democracy," Tirosh said. "As long as what Netanyahu offered fits the platform of Kadima, I think we should join the coalition.
"I will study the offer. I am not in a hurry to leave any party. It would have to be something dramatic for me to leave the party and I don't see that here."
But Likud officials involved in the effort to split Kadima said following the meeting that they still expected it to happen.
Before the meeting, Livni convened advisers Eyal Arad, Reuven Adler, Kalman Gayer, Yoram Raved and Gil Messing in Ramat Gan, while at the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu consulted with his political adviser Shalom Shlomo and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, the two architects of the plan to split Kadima.
Arad and Raved denied a report that a Livni adviser recommended accepting Netanyahu's offer.
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu called on Livni to join the government, like then-opposition leader Menachem Begin did before the Six Day War. Begin and his Gahal Party joined a national unity government under then-prime minister Levi Eshkol at the outbreak of the 1967 war, after sitting in the opposition since the founding of the state in 1948.
"The State of Israel stands before huge challenges," the Netanyahu said. "I really hope that Kadima will respond to my offer, and join the government. I hope they will do what Menachem Begin did in his time."
Channel 2 reported that Livni responded to her associates that Netanyahu was asking her to be like current Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, and not like his father. She said the elder Begin was proud to serve in the opposition, while his son was a minister in charge of nothing.
In an interview with Israel Radio, Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik called the prime minister's offer "rotten and deceptive."
Itzik said that just a few days ago Netanyahu offered seven portfolios to seven Kadima MKs, based on those seven defecting from the Kadima Party. But now, Itzik said, Netanyahu is offering just two to all 28 Kadima Knesset members.
Livni's associates accused her rival, MK Shaul Mofaz, of coordinating his recent attacks on her with Netanyahu. Mofaz has warned Livni that if she did not agree to initiate a leadership race in Kadima, the party would split and 14 MKs would leave with him.
In an interview with Yisrael Hayom, Mofaz accused Livni of repeatedly making strategic errors that harmed the country, especially when she failed to form a government in October 2008 that could have kept the Likud in the opposition with 12 mandates and when she turned down Netanyahu's offer to join the coalition in March.
"She only consults with her campaign team and media adviser," Mofaz said. "This doesn't display depth or partnership.
"Kadima is not a one-woman party. The current crisis is the result of lack of leadership. The era of conceit in Kadima is over. Arrogance cannot be a substitute for leadership."