(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu denied reports in the Hebrew press on Sunday that he had spoken recently to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the possibility of forming a national unity government.
Olmert and Netanyahu meet regularly and speak often on the phone, Netanyahu's associates said, but the formation of a national unity government has not been raised. Rather, the two discuss security issues, and Netanyahu offers specific advice to Olmert, who respects Netanyahu's experience and knowledge in the field.
"We have one goal, and that's to return the Likud to power," Netanyahu told Likud activists at Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar's pre-Rosh Hashana toast at Tel Aviv's Beit Hahayal.
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik called for a national unity government of Kadima, Labor and Likud in a toast she hosted for Kadima activists at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters. While Itzik has pushed for a unity government for years, her declaration was seen as more urgent due to the current tension between Israel and Syria.
"There are so many good reasons why a national unity government is necessary when there are threats from Iran, Hizbullah and [Syria], which obligate us to join forces," Itzik said. "It is necessary now more than ever to form a national emergency government that will represent the consensus of the people and give the government a necessary boost."
Itzik revealed in her speech that she had met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad at her Jerusalem home on Sunday. She told the crowd that the government must advance talks with moderate Arab leaders.
But Likud leaders said the ongoing talks between Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas were the main thing preventing greater cooperation between the Likud and the government.
In his toast, Sa'ar accused Olmert of "selling out our country's future for his own political survival," but he said the Likud must offer its support on security issues.
"We have to emphasize that we are the opposition to the government, not the country," Sa'ar said. "We have a patriotic approach. We will give the government the support necessary to protect the people."
Sa'ar said Labor chairman Ehud Barak was aware of the dangers in the missteps Olmert was making during his talks with Abbas, but was "too scared" to try to stop them.
Sa'ar said the urgently necessary political move was not the formation of a national unity government, but for Israel Beiteinu and Shas to quit the coalition and topple Olmert's government before the dangers intensified.