Likud ready to meet Lieberman's central demands

Israel Beiteinu chair seeking defense or finance portfolio; Kadima would give any portfolio to Israel Beiteinu; Deri warns "Bibi same old liar."

netanyahu post-election speech 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
netanyahu post-election speech 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Likud is confident it can meet the two demands on which Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman has conditioned recommending that President Shimon Peres designate Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu to be the next prime minister, Likud officials said Thursday. The Jerusalem Post reported exclusively Thursday that Lieberman was ready to endorse Netanyahu rather than Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, provided that Netanyahu pledged to push through his demands for civil unions and an eased conversion process, but that if those two demands were not met, he would back Livni. Lieberman is also seeking to be appointed defense minister or finance minister, wants Daniel Friedmann to stay in the justice portfolio, strongly advocates electoral reform and wants the next coalition committed to toppling Hamas in Gaza. But those demands are not an absolute precondition for him backing Netanyahu. While the issues of civil unions and conversion could derail coalition-building due to Shas's objections, Likud officials said they were sure they could bridge the gaps between Israel Beiteinu and the haredim in order to allow them to both join a coalition under Netanyahu. Former cabinet minister Yaakov Neeman, who mediated a compromise on conversion in 1998, will be tasked with mediating between the two parties if Peres appoints Netanyahu to form a government. "There are ways to mediate between Shas and Israel Beiteinu on these issues and Neeman is the best man to do it," Likud MK Yuli Edelstein said. "Israel Beiteinu must act wisely on civil unions. We aren't in a campaign anymore and we have to work to find a common denominator. If Lieberman wants Tzipi we can't stop him, but if he wants Netanyahu there are ways to bridge the gaps." In an effort to prevent Netanyahu from obtaining the support of a majority of the legislature before Peres begins consultations with the Knesset factions, Kadima sent former Shas chairman Arye Deri to Lieberman on Wednesday, asking him to allow Livni to form a government instead. "Bibi is the same old liar he always was," Deri told Lieberman, according to Kadima officials. "He won't keep his promises on civil unions." Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who heads Kadima's negotiating team, met with his Israel Beiteinu counterpart, MK Stas Meseznikov, on Thursday and gave him the impression that no portfolio was off limits for Lieberman, despite the multiple ongoing criminal investigations against him. He also agreed to Lieberman's demands on civil unions and conversion. "Our views on the civil agenda, including civil marriage and conversion, are virtually identical," Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner said. "We have an obligation to hundreds of thousands of Kadima voters who want an immediate change in the electoral system and in the registration of couples." Meseznikov told Ramon that Israel Beiteinu was unwilling to compromise with Shas on civil unions in order to allow a right-wing coalition to be formed. Meseznikov said after the meeting that he issued demands to both Likud and Kadima regarding the next coalition's guidelines and he was waiting for detailed responses in hopes of a government being formed as soon as possible. Coalition negotiations will begin in earnest next Wednesday, after the official results of the election are published in the government registry. The Central Elections Committee announced on Thursday that after counting some 180,000 votes from soldiers, prisoners, emissaries, the handicapped and the hospitalized, there had been no change in the mandates received by the parties, and Kadima had still beaten Likud by one seat, 28 to 27. After it became clear that the Likud did not gain a seat from the soldiers as it had hoped, Kadima issued a statement saying that as the largest party, it should form a national-unity government and the Likud should join it. "Now that it is clear that Kadima won the race, Bibi and the Likud hacks must stop trying to steal the premiership," the statement said. The Likud called Kadima's statement pathetic and accused the party of being detached from reality. The Likud added that Livni's commitment to forming a national-unity government would be tested after Peres asked Netanyahu to form a government. The Post reported Thursday that, despite public statements to the contrary by Kadima leaders, a consensus was developing in Likud and Kadima that they would be able to form a government together under Netanyahu's leadership on the basis of equality between the two parties. According to the scenario, the Likud would give Kadima the same number of ministries as the Likud, including two of the top four cabinet positions. The Likud would retain the premiership and the Treasury, while Kadima could be given the Foreign and Defense ministries. Some Likud MKs privately expressed opposition to Kadima joining the government, both for ideological and personal political reasons. They admitted that they would prefer a narrow government in which the Likud controlled the top portfolios and would receive more ministries. But the only Likud MK in the incoming Knesset who would say as much on the record was Danny Danon. "Kadima should be allowed to disintegrate in the opposition," he said. At a meeting of the incoming Likud MKs on Wednesday, the entire faction endorsed Netanyahu's decision to try to form a government with the 65 lawmakers on the Right, before negotiating with Kadima. Likud officials said parties on the Right could be given certain portfolios but told that if Kadima joined the coalition, they would have to relinquish them. "It's not worth the risk of losing a coalition with the Right for a possibility with Kadima that might not happen," Edelstein said. "Better a narrow coalition in the hand than a coalition with Kadima on the tree." Netanyahu met Thursday with the heads of the two religious-Zionist parties, National Union and Habayit Hayehudi. The National Union played hard to get, saying it would not recommend to Peres that Netanyahu form the government if he would include Kadima in his coalition. "We are not in anyone's pocket," National Union leader Yaakov Katz said.