Kadima, Likud scramble to get Lieberman

Livni accedes to all Israel Beiteinu's demands but one.

Lieberman calm down 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lieberman calm down 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is on vacation in the chilly Belarusian capital of Minsk, but he apparently isn't getting much rest. The leader of the newly-crowned third-largest party, who holds the balance of power between Likud and Kadima, spoke to both Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni from his vacation spot in the city along the Svislach River, political sources told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. Both Netanyahu and Livni are trying to win the support of Lieberman's faction before he recommends a candidate to form a coalition when he meets with President Shimon Peres on Thursday morning. Netanyahu's associates have not ruled out a meeting with Lieberman between his return to Israel on Wednesday night and his meeting with Peres in the morning. Livni gained an edge over Netanyahu on Monday when she sent Vice Premier Haim Ramon to formally agree to nearly all of Israel Beiteinu's coalition demands - including toppling Hamas, changing the electoral system, funding immigrants, reforming conversions and recognizing civil unions between men and women who live together as partners without a religious ceremony. The only demand Kadima did not accept was initiating a loyalty oath. Israel Beiteinu released a statement saying it was pleased Kadima had accepted its demands and that it expected Likud to do the same. Likud officials said it would take longer for them to reach a deal with Israel Beiteinu, because the issues of civil unions and conversion were sensitive for Shas and United Torah Judaism. "None of the commitments Kadima made obligates them, because they won't be forming a government," said Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who has held talks with Israel Beiteinu officials. "They aren't conducting serious negotiations, because Livni won't be prime minister. Because Netanyahu will, we know that if we make promises, we will have to keep them." In closed conversations between Likud officials and Kadima MKs, Likud has made many promises to Kadima in return for joining a Likud-led national unity government. The list includes the Foreign and Defense ministries, along with as many as eight other portfolios. If deputy ministries and top Knesset committee chairmanships are added, 16 of Kadima's 28 MKs would be given plum positions if they joined. Likud officials have said that despite Livni's pledge to not join a Netanyahu-led government, Kadima MKs have told them that if Peres entrusted Netanyahu with forming a government, they would push for Kadima to join. They said formal negotiations with Kadima would begin immediately if Peres chose Netanyahu to form a government, but meanwhile, they were minimizing contact with Kadima to avoid upsetting other possible coalition partners. Netanyahu urged Kadima to join a national unity government. Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said that in light of the "many threats the nation faces" there was no time to waste in forming a government "with our natural partners." He said the people had chosen a "path of strength" and had rejected the "current government's way." Nevertheless, Netanyahu said that as well as forming a government with Likud's natural coalition partners, he intended to appeal to other parties, "especially Kadima" and tell them that due to the threats Israel faced, a national unity government was required. Besides Kadima and Israel Beiteinu, the other party giving Likud trouble in informal coalition talks is United Torah Judaism. Likud officials said the divisions inside UTJ require them to negotiate with three different MKs and their rabbis. A poll taken by the Katznelson Institute found that most of the public, some 65%, wanted a national-unity government, the majority of whom said Netanyahu should lead it.