Parties begin pilgrimage to Peres

Official coalition talks set to begin Wednesday; Likud: We won't commit suicide for Israel Beiteinu.

peres thoughtful 248.88 (photo credit: )
peres thoughtful 248.88
(photo credit: )
President Shimon Peres begins his long-awaited consultations with the dozen factions in the 18th Knesset on Wednesday in an effort to determine whether he will task Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu or Kadima leader Tzipi Livni with forming a new government. Delegations from Kadima and Likud will come to Beit Hanassi on Wednesday night following a visit from the head of the Central Elections Committee, former Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg, who will inform Peres that the results of last Tuesday's election have been published in the official government registry. But the real action at the president's residence is set to take place on Thursday morning, when Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman will reveal to Peres his decision on whether he backs Netanyahu, Livni, or neither. Lieberman is scheduled to return from a vacation in Minsk on Wednesday night. Likud officials expressed anger at Lieberman on Tuesday for repeated hints dropped by his party's coalition negotiating team that they could back Livni, due to Kadima's acceptance of Israel Beiteinu's demands on matters of religion and state. The Likud cannot make the same promises due to commitments to the haredi parties. "Israel Beiteinu is asking us for things we can't give them," Likud MK Reuven Rivlin said. "We can't promise that there won't be haredim in the coalition. If you ask me to commit suicide, I won't. If Lieberman wants another election, he can have it." Likud officials warned on Tuesday that if Israel Beiteinu did not recommend Netanyahu for prime minister, the Likud would reduce its offer to Israel Beiteinu and perhaps plan a government with Kadima and the haredi parties, leaving out Lieberman's party. The officials said that in previous governments, there were numerous occasions in which a party that won around 15 seats - the number of mandates Israel Beiteinu gained last week - did not receive senior portfolios. Israel Beiteinu's chief negotiator, MK Stas Meseznikov, has demanded either the Defense, Foreign or Finance Ministry. "It's not written in law that Israel Beiteinu must get one of the top three ministries," a Likud official said. Progress has been made in recent days in Likud's talks with both Shas and United Torah Judaism. Shas reportedly received a commitment from Likud for the Interior and Construction and Housing portfolios. UTJ has been promised the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee and a deputy minister. In an effort to portray itself as the winner of the election, Kadima held a victory party at the Hangar 11 night club at the Tel Aviv Port on Tuesday night. Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who heads Kadima's negotiating team, insisted on Tuesday that any Likud attempt to present its positions as being close to those of Israel Beiteinu was totally baseless. Speaking to Israel Radio, Ramon said that on civil issues, the Likud was bound by Shas. Ramon said the Likud could not back Israel Beiteinu's push for civil unions, changes to the electoral system and conversion reforms, and therefore, Netanyahu's party still hadn't responded to its list of demands. He added that the positions of Lieberman's party were closest to those of Kadima, although there was still no agreement regarding Israel Beiteinu's much-touted loyalty oath proposal since it was a "complicated and complex issue." Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.