Kadima leader says her Likud counterpart failed to make commitment to two-state solution.
By JPOST.COM STAFF, GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Friday's meeting between Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, billed as a last-ditch attempt to form a national unity government, ended without a breakthrough, with Livni insisting that she was heading for the opposition.
Livni said Netanyahu failed to make a commitment that the government's platform would include pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.
"I came for a second meeting with the Likud leader to hear his vision and the way he believes is correct," Livni said after the meeting in Tel Aviv. "Israel is facing challenges and I told him that Kadima would support the correct moves made by the government."
"But to deal with the challenges, I wanted three basic principles that you know of," she told reporters. "Two states for two peoples is not an empty slogan. It is the only way Israel can remain Jewish and fight terror. It's a fundamental issue."
Livni said that a unity government would have been possible provided it included plans for a two-state solution, changes to the electoral system and other Interior Ministry reforms, lamenting, however, that Netanyahu was not committed on those subjects, and pledging to be "a responsible" opposition.
"This meeting has ended without agreements on issues that I see as essential," Livni said. "There could be a government that advances these issues. At the moment, based on the discussions I held in the adjacent room, that government won't be Netanyahu's."
Nevertheless, Netanyahu said after the meeting that he had been "prepared to go very far" to form a unity government, indicating that, despite her pre-and post-election promises, Livni did not have the same "willingness for unity," which he said was particularly vital now, considering the escalating Iranian threat and Israeli unemployment.
Despite Livni's claim that the new government's platform would not be to her party's liking, Netanyahu insisted that he had offered her "full partnership" in setting its guidelines.
"Unity requires compromise and I was prepared to go in that direction," he said. "I also offered an equal number of ministries, including two out of the top three, I said I intended to move peace negotiations forward, and that we would act to advance civil unions and to introduce electoral reforms."
"If there's a will, there's a way; and if there is a will there is unity," he continued.
"In my opinion, the gaps can be bridged, but I was met with total rejection and a refusal to even agree to set up dialogue teams in order to strike a partnership," he went on. "I didn't find that Livni had the willingness for unity."
Likud chief negotiator MK Gideon Sa'ar said that the Kadima head had "stubbornly held onto her refusal" to join such a coalition, and claimed that her motives were personal.
"She didn't even agree to setting up special negotiating teams," he said. "For unity, compromise is required, but Livni's motives to sabotage unity are personal."
But Kadima faction head MK Yoel Hasson said that Kadima could not accept the future government's direction or guidelines, and accused Netanyahu of being a hypocrite.
"It's clear to everyone that Netanyahu's calls for a unity government are hypocritical," he said. "A few months ago, Likud refused to join such a government led by Livni, but now they are preaching to us about how important it is."
Netanyahu had made efforts over the last few days to reach out to Livni and persuade her that his government would pursue peace with the Palestinians and that there was no ideological basis for not joining the coalition.
Writing in the new issue of the New York Jewish Week, meanwhile, Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman, expected to be one of Netanyahu's senior coalition partners, called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Rejecting claims that he is a man of the "far right" or an "ultra-nationalist," he wrote: "I want the State of Israel to remain a Zionist, Jewish and democratic state. There is nothing 'far' or 'ultra' about those ideals. I also advocate the creation of a viable Palestinian state."
President Shimon Peres has met with Kadima MKs over the last few days in an effort to push the formation of national unity government. Many Kadima MKs have said in closed conversations that they believed the party should join Netanyahu's government, but the only MKs who have said so publicly are Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and his ally, Ronit Tirosh.
Sources close to Mofaz had left open the possibility that if Livni formally closed the door on a unity government, some of the MKs who agreed with him would vocalize their discontent. But they expressed doubt that the MKs would risk angering Livni, who could decide who receives portfolios in a future government.
Kadima MK Marina Solodkin said she had a difficult time explaining to Russian immigrant activists in the party why the party would remain in the opposition.
"I tell them that it's only temporary and that when the challenges Israel is facing intensify, the government will fall," Solodkin said. "I also tell them that as Marxism teaches, things often happen against the will of humanity."
A Shvakim Panorama poll broadcast on Israel Radio on Thursday morning found that 85 percent of Kadima voters want their party to join Netanyahu's coalition, while only 11.4% said it should be in the opposition.
Kadima officials responded that the same pollster predicted that the Likud would beat Kadima by a wide margin. They revealed that a survey taken by Kadima pollster Kalman Geyer found that 70 percent of people who voted Kadima wanted the party in the opposition.
Meanwhile, in a move that could hamper Likud's coalition negotiations with haredi parties, Degel Hatorah mentor Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv has expressed his opposition to any compromise on the civil union issue and has even rejected a solution put forward by Shas, according to which Israel would allow civil marriages between Israeli non-Jews, a source close to the rabbi revealed Friday.
Finding a solution for couples seeking recognition for civil unions without a religious ceremony is one of potential coalition partner Israel Beiteinu's key demands that was accepted by Likud last week.
Elyashiv reportedly stated that particularly since a narrow, right-wing coalition appeared to be on the cards, United Torah Judaism - of which Degel Hatorah is a component - could not allow changes to the status quo on the civil union issue.
Shas is also unlikely to go against the revered halachic authority.
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