Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's offer to join a national unity government comes after weeks of underhanded attempts to coerce Kadima members into defecting from the party, Kadima and opposition leader Tzipi Livni told faction members during a meeting in Petah Tikva Thursday evening.
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu had invited Livni to join a national unity government and combine forces to face challenges both at home and abroad.
The offer came after the two met for nearly two hours to discuss state and security matters.
"How can any man conduct himself with one goal - the goal of splitting up Kadima, which has been guiding him since the inception of the party - on a week such as this?" Livni said, accusing Netanyahu of engaging in political maneuvering on a critical period in negotiations to free captured IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
Livni said she was aware of the difficulty of making a decision on such a sensitive subject. "When the decision was being made on [kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud] Goldwasser and [Eldad] Regev," she said, "I was part of Netanyahu's government."
When someone in the crowd moved to correct her and pointed out that she had confused former prime minister Ehud Olmert with her current political rival, she replied, "God forbid!"
"Both Netanyahu and [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak cannot stand Kadima. They know we are an alternative [to their government], that we are better â€¦ that the public continues to support us," she said. "I want to thank everyone who walked into the room, received an offer [from Netanyahu] and said, 'No thank you, I'm a member of Kadima and I'm staying in Kadima.'"
Although Livni did not outright reject Netanyahu's offer in her speech, she made clear that she found attempts to split up her party "repulsive." Such behavior, she said, was precisely the difference between "old politics" and Kadima's more transparent, less conniving "new politics."
This, she said, was the reason why she had refused to join the government eight months previously. "I still believe today that it would have been a betrayal of the trust the public put in us had we joined."
Her meeting with Netanyahu earlier that day - "he finally cleared his schedule, I put on something nice," she joked - had centered on the need for broad support for the government in dealing with Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah and other outstanding issues. The prime minister, she said, "offered Kadima the chance to participate in defense-related discussions in order to contend jointly with threats."
Netanyahu told Livni that the proposed national unity government would be based on principles outlined in his Bar Ilan speech. Such priorities as peace and security, he said, today represent a broad national consensus.
Livni told Kadima members that in her reply, she had stressed that she would not "take part in the game" of deceit aimed at splitting up Kadima.
In reaction to the invitation, Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh said Thursday evening that if Livni were to turn down Netanyahu's proposal for an unsatisfactory reason, the party would split.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar called on Livni and the Kadima party "to show national responsibility" and acquiesce to the prime minister's invitation in order to better face "heavy national, social and defense-related challenges."
The meeting came just hours after Livni told Mofaz , that Netanyahu was "trying to break up Kadima." Unfazed, Mofaz urged Livni to call primaries in order to save the party.
Gil Hoffman and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report