Netanyahu? Livni? Rotation? Peres won't say

Advisors predict president insist on dialogue between Netanyahu and Livni, encouraging them to work out a unity partnership.

peres thoughtful 248.88 (photo credit: )
peres thoughtful 248.88
(photo credit: )
President Shimon Peres vowed on a visit to Beersheba on Monday to abide by the law and the will of the people when he decides in the coming days whether to entrust Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu or Kadima leader Tzipi Livni with the task of forming a new government. But given that the law gives him wide leeway in making that choice, and that the will of the people produced less than decisive election results, Peres's comment offered little. And he made no further clarification. For now, the president said, he wasn't even running through the options in his own mind. On Wednesday evening, he will begin meeting with representatives of the 12 new Knesset factions, to hear which candidate they recommend. He then has until Wednesday, February 25, to announce his choice - and he doesn't have to follow the will of the party leaders. "Until Wednesday evening, I am even afraid to talk to myself on this issue," Peres told the Beersheba students, "because I am afraid it will leak to the press and be misinterpreted." In the absence of any presidential signals, and even though he has made a point of not consulting with confidants ahead of his decision, some erstwhile Peres advisers and current friends are offering their own speculation. They predicted on Monday that Peres would intervene beyond a president's traditional role, and insist on dialogue between Netanyahu and Livni, encouraging them to work out a unity partnership. Einat Wilf, a former Peres foreign policy adviser who narrowly missed out on a seat in the new Knesset as No. 14 on the Labor list, speculated that Peres would ask Netanyahu and Livni to serve in a rotation government in which the Likud leader would serve for two years followed by two years under the head of Kadima. She noted that Peres himself headed such a government from 1984 to 1988 and that it proved relatively stable. "The results of the election call for the two parties to share power," said Wilf, who stressed that she had not discussed the matter with Peres. "This is one of the rare cases that the president's role is not merely symbolic. As someone who has seen it all, Peres can steer the two sides to reach the compromises they need to make for the good of the country. He was part of a successful rotation government, so he can share with them the perspective that it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing." Asked if such a scenario would not be more of a compromise for Netanyahu than Livni, Wilf said that Peres could credibly ask Livni, as the leader of the largest party, to form a government without a rotation, so it would be a compromise for both sides. A former Knesset member who is a close personal friend of Peres predicted that, unless Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman endorsed the Likud leader and gave him the support of more than half the Knesset, he would entrust Livni with forming a government. "He will make an effort to bring together the two largest parties into a national unity government, and perhaps even the four largest," the former MK said. "If Netanyahu has 61 MKs recommending him, then Peres will obviously let him form a government. If the recommendations from the factions are less clear, he will prefer that the largest party build a coalition." Another former MK and Peres confidant who speaks to him frequently stressed that Peres's political vision, and notably his own history as the leader of the peace camp, would not tilt his stance against the Likud leader, and hinted that he believed Peres would choose Netanyahu. "I wouldn't entertain the notion for a minute that Peres would consider his [personal] outlook when he makes his decision," the former MK said. "If anything, he will specifically do the opposite. He will encourage dialogue and take his time before he makes his decision. He will be the national mediator." Back in Beersheba, meanwhile, a student asked Peres for his views on electoral reform. Peres replied that the current system was harmful to the major parties. He said there were too many parties, and too much horse trading that denigrates politics in the eyes of the public. Peres said he would favor instituting regional representation and the raising of the threshold for a Knesset mandate that currently stands at two percent.