Livni becomes 1st member of Netanyahu-led gov't

PM offers former rival justice, environmental protection ministries; Livni also to head peace talks with Palestinian Authority.

Livni and Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Livni and Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Tzipi Livni Party became the first partner in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s next coalition on Tuesday, with Livni to serve as justice minister and leader of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
“The State of Israel needs a broad unity government,” Netanyahu said in a joint press conference with Livni Tuesday night announcing the agreement. “We face unprecedented challenges from Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah that do not stop for one minute. In addition to our commitment to security, we must make every effort to promote a responsible peace with the Palestinians. We need a stable government uniting the nation to respond.”
The prime minister said Livni will lead talks for peace between two nation-states, to “end the conflict once and for all.”
Netanyahu called for parties to “look for what unites us, not separates us, put aside old rivalries and work together for the country.”
In an apparent reference to Yesh Atid’s unwillingness to sit in a coalition with haredi parties, the prime minister said now is not the time to get tougher in negotiations, and that parties should not reject entire populations.
Livni addressed the fact that she spoke out harshly against Netanyahu in the election campaign and as opposition leader, saying she “took a political risk and will face criticism, and that’s fine.”
“This partnership came about after talks, and after I was given the right and authority to negotiate for Israel to end the conflict with the Palestinians,” she said.
“This reality is bringing the US president to visit next month. The conflict continues, with Hamas ruling Gaza and hopefully not Judea and Samaria.”
Bringing Livni into the coalition is a clear message from the prime minister to US President Barack Obama that he is serious about the peace process.
Livni is likely to play a role similar to that of outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak in smoothing relations between Netanyahu and Obama.
According to the agreement, Livni will be the chief negotiator with the Palestinians, but will coordinate with Netanyahu, who is to lead a ministerial committee on the peace process that will include Livni and the defense and foreign ministers.
In addition, Livni will be able to choose her own staff for peace talks, except for one representative appointed by Netanyahu. The representative is expected to be the prime minister’s lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, who has been involved in negotiations with the Palestinians in the past.
Any agreement reached with the Palestinian Authority will have to be brought to both a ministerial and a Knesset vote, and even a possible referendum, a condition that may be an opening for the Bayit Yehudi to be able to enter the coalition.
Still, Bayit Yehudi responded to the announcement of Livni joining the coalition by saying it alienated the party from the government.
“A government with one of the major supporters of the Gaza disengagement, who is in favor of dividing Jerusalem, is not a right-wing government,” the party stated.
As justice minister, Livni will be chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, whose approval determines whether bills live or die, and she will also be a member of the Security Cabinet.
Another member of the Livni Party, most likely Amir Peretz, who is third on the list, will become environmental protection minister and a member of the Socioeconomic Cabinet.
Ahead of the election, Peretz switched from Labor to the Livni Party, because at the time, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich was not committed to staying out of the coalition.
Currently, Yacimovich says she will not be in Netanyahu’s government.
A high-ranking Likud Beytenu source said the faction’s MKs are pleased with the agreement, because it means there will, in all likelihood, be one minister to every three MKs.
Likud and Yisrael Beytenu have 19 ministers in the outgoing government.
The Livni Party will also receive the chairmanship of either a Knesset committee, or of a Foreign Affairs and Defense subcommittee, which is expected to go to Amram Mitzna, second on the party list.
The basic guideline of the coalition agreement emphasizes the importance of Israel as a Jewish and democratic country with defensible borders.
In addition, it mentions passing a law to increase equality in the burden of national service, electoral reform, lowering the costs of housing and living, and fighting racism.
“The prime minister and I understand the need to take care of issues like equality in the burden [of service] and the economy,” Livni said, “but knowing the importance of those issues does not make security and diplomatic matters less important.”
Shas co-chairman Arye Deri congratulated Livni, who responded that she hopes to see Shas sign a coalition agreement in the coming days.
“With her experience, Tzipi Livni will surely add a lot in dealing with challenges in the coming days,” Deri said.
“Israel needs a government that will unite the nation and not bring discourse of rejecting the other.”
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ) denounced the coalition agreement, saying that “the next election may already have been opened,” and denied reports he was told in advance about the deal.
Meanwhile, Shas and Kadima denied rumors that they are close to signing coalition agreements.
A Shas source said that although there have been “significant, advanced” negotiations, the sides have yet to come to an agreement on haredi enlistment, or budget cuts.
A source close to Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz said that negotiations have been “static” in recent days, and while coalition guidelines have been discussed, the talks have not reached the point of dealing with portfolios.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.