Consensus forming on Likud-led unity gov't with Kadima

Netanyahu ready to give Livni 2 of top 4 ministries and equal cabinet representation; Kadima privately admits Bibi will be asked to form coalition.

livni V sign 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
livni V sign 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Likud and Kadima will be able to form a government together under the leadership of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, on the basis of equality between the two parties, senior officials in both parties said Wednesday. A day after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu each declared victory in Tuesday's election, they both began a race against time to form a coalition on paper before President Shimon Peres started the process of appointing one of them to build a government next week. Netanyahu and Livni both met with the leader of what has become the third largest party, Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman, in an attempt to woo him. But Lieberman raised several demands that either prime ministerial candidate would have a hard time accepting. Livni appointed a coalition negotiating team of five top Kadima ministers and MKs and the party will continue with its political horse-trading in an effort to persuade Peres to let Livni form a government. But privately, senior Kadima officials said they were well aware that Peres would ask Netanyahu to form a government because of the Right bloc's 65-55 advantage over the Left, and that if Likud offered Kadima a sweet deal, they should take it. Netanyahu's associates revealed that he would be willing to give Kadima the same number of ministries as the Likud, including two of the top four cabinet positions. Likud would get the premiership and the Treasury, while Kadima could be given the Foreign and Defense ministries. "We're ready to be very generous to Kadima in plum portfolios and power, to lock them into our government," a source close to Netanyahu said. "You have to pay a price to get that kind of stability, and I think he would be willing to pay a heavy price." While some top officials in Kadima expressed interest in such a deal, others said the party should go to the opposition in order to present itself as an alternative to Netanyahu and wait for the public to grow frustrated with the exclusively right-wing coalition that Netanyahu would be forced to form. Netanyahu told the Likud faction on Wednesday that "if Kadima will rise above political interests and spin, and will concern itself with what is good for the country, they will join our government." Channel 2's Amnon Abramowitz reported that Peres would actively attempt to persuade whoever he appointed to build a coalition to fulfill the will of the public by forming a national unity government. "He wants a government as soon as possible," a source close to Peres said. "He knows his limitations, yet he knows where he is not limited." Livni told Lieberman on Wednesday that the election results had presented a chance for a national unity government led by her. "This is an opportunity for unity in which we can advance issues that are also important to you," Livni told him. Speculation by political pundits that Peres will lock Livni and Netanyahu in a room until they reach agreement about serving together in a national unity government is somewhat premature, Peres's aides said. According to Peres's spokeswoman Ayelet Frish, the president has no intention of dealing with any aspect of the new government prior to February 18, when the official election results are to be published. Attempts by representatives of various parties to talk to him before then in the hope of persuading him to take one course or another would be futile, she said, because the president would not talk to them. Peres, who was vice prime minister in the Kadima-led government prior to his election to the presidency, is so stringent on this point that unlike outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he had not called Livni to congratulate her. He was adamant about adhering to both the letter and the spirit of the law, which states that he can begin consultations with representatives of the Knesset party factions only after the official publication of results, and was therefore refraining from any contact with people from the parties concerned. Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.