Opposition parties reconsider the coalition

Opposition parties found themselves reconsidering a place in the coalition as talk of Labor's internal problems spurred rumors that a vacancy might soon emerge. While they insisted they had not yet been officially approached to join the coalition, a number of behind-the-scenes talks have pushed many Israel Beiteinu, National Union/National Religious Party and Likud MKs to consider what their coalition demands would be. All insist that the coalition agreement be redrawn to erase the realignment plan from the center of the agenda. "We are prepared to join this government as long as a new government is formed - a center-right government, without Labor and instead with us, Likud and the NU/NRP," said a spokesman for Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. "The goals and values of the coalition would need to be discussed, and realignment could not play any part in the coalition agreement." The sense that Israel Beiteinu might soon join the coalition was apparent among many in the party, who said they have begun censoring their criticism of the government in case they soon joined its ranks. While the MKs in the NU/NRP appeared slightly more divided, the mood in that party leans towards joining the coalition if it includes the makeup described by Israel Beiteinu. "We all know that now is not the time for elections. It's too soon after the war and nobody wants to see the country divided," said one senior NU/NRP MK. "If Kadima gave up the realignment folly, it would be very possible that we could consider joining." The Likud appeared the most hesitant to join the coalition, although chairman Binyamin Netanyahu left a window open for a possible partnership on Wednesday. "There are too many variables at this time for me to say one way or another," he said. Aides added that during the past month, Netanyahu has been a steady partner to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and supported the government while it embarked on its military operation in Lebanon. The Likud could align itself with Kadima "now that realignment is off the table," said one party MK. "We have to weigh what is ultimately best for us. We want to head the government, after all, and not serve as a partner." The other two possible coalition partners - Meretz and the three Arab parties - could create a left-wing government and were mentioned in the early negotiations following the elections. Since then, they have become the black sheep of the Knesset, and none of the other parties has agreed to work in a coalition with them. "The likelihood of Olmert adding them and forming a left-leaning government is about the same as Olmert adding [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to the government," said one Kadima MK.