Bibi won't join Olmert-led government

Statement made without consulting Likud officials; border issues a factor.

netanyahu fists 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
netanyahu fists 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu surprised his colleagues on Saturday when he announced on Channel 2 that the party would not enter a government in which the policies that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented to The Jerusalem Post last week would be implemented. Despite a statement by Netanyahu's spokesman Ophir Akunis on Thursday that Netanyahu would not respond to Olmert, the chairman apparently changed his mind over the weekend and rushed to Channel 2's studio in Neveh Ilan on Shabbat to slam Olmert. "These elections are a referendum on the final border," Netanyahu said. "Olmert wants to withdraw unilaterally from most of the land. The Likud will not enter such a government." Netanyahu also used the interview to backtrack from a promise he made in September 2004 to bring any territorial compromises to a referendum. He said that because this election would serve as a referendum, he would no longer demand an actual referendum. Senior Likud officials said they were surprised that Netanyahu ruled out joining a Kadima-led government without consulting them. They said the matter had not been raised in any Likud institutions or internal forums. "There wasn't a discussion on this," a Likud MK said. "I don't understand many of the steps that [Netanyahu] has taken, including this one." When Netanyahu was asked similar questions about sitting in a coalition with Kadima in recent interviews with The Jerusalem Post and Yediot Aharonot, he evaded the question by saying that he did not want to deal with a hypothetical situation and that Kadima was "a temporary bubble." Kadima strategists were pleased with Netanyahu's decision to stay out of a potential Kadima government. They scoffed at the haste of the Likud leader's decision and the irony that Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal rejected Olmert's plans in similar fashion. "This is yet another example of the weakness of character and judgment of Netanyahu," Kadima strategist Lior Chorev said. "Israel will soon be free of Netanyahu and perhaps the Likud as well." Chorev said he agreed with Netanyahu that the election would serve as a referendum. "The public will have to decide between Netanyahu's scare tactics and Kadima's will to lead Israel to proper policies," Chorev said. Inside Kadima, there was also discord over Olmert's interview. Kadima candidate Shimon Peres said he still believed in negotiating with the Palestinians over the road map, rather than going forward with the unilateral steps that Olmert had suggested. "Unilateral disengagement should be left as the last option, said Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz Saturday night at a conference in Herzliya." We need to make more effort to negotiate over Judea and Samaria and take advantage of the negotiating table with Abu Mazen." Labor MK Danny Yatom ironically attacked Olmert from the right, saying that "Kadima is deluding the public when Olmert says he can decide Israel's border without negotiations." The Likud released a statement after Shabbat saying, "This election is a referendum that will decide between the extreme leftist plan of Olmert and the Likud's plan for secure and defensible borders for Israel." "While Olmert is talking about withdrawing unilaterally from most of the land to Hamas without getting anything in return, the Likud promises to maintain the Jordan Valley, the Judean Desert and a united Jerusalem, to distance the fence from the Dan region and Ben-Gurion Airport and to use international pressure to replace Hamas with a more moderate Palestinian leadership," a Likud spokesman said. Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.