Plan for Likud-Labor coalition nixed

Both party heads reject deal; Peretz calls Bibi 'right-wing extremist'.

amir peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amir peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu announced over the weekend that they do not intend to take Likud MK Silvan Shalom's advice to recommend the formation of a joint Likud-Labor government to President Moshe Katsav after the March 28 election. According to the law, the president is supposed to choose the leader of the party that has the best chance of forming a coalition. Traditionally, the president has chosen the leader of the largest party, but Shalom said that even if Kadima wins the election, a Kadima-led government should not be considered a foregone conclusion. Following the election, each party will come to Beit Hanassi to give the president their opinion on who he should ask to form the next coalition. Shalom believes that Likud and Labor should work out an agreement in advance to recommend a national-unity government that would include the two parties and their allies on either the right or left. "Kadima does not have a bloc behind it like the Likud and Labor do, so the president should decide that we would be preferable," Shalom said. "I believe that we can overcome our differences and govern together as we have in the past." According to one report, Shalom even told Labor that Peretz could serve as prime minister for the first two years of the term and Netanyahu the final two years. The last rotation government was established in the 1980s when Shimon Peres (then-Labor) and Yitzhak Shamir (Likud) alternated in the roles of prime minister in the middle of the government's term. Reports over the weekend about the possible formation of such a coalition gave new hope to Likud and Labor activists that their party could become part of the government without having to find favor with Kadima chairman Ehud Olmert. The activists who head the Likud and Labor organizational campaigns in the field, Likudnik Uri Farej and Laborite Avi Bitzur, even decided to work together in junctions across the country. But both Peretz and Netanyahu ruled out the idea. "There is no chance for a coalition between us and the Likud," Peretz told reporters in Tel Aviv. "There is an abyss between us and Bibi, who is a right-wing extremist on socioeconomic and diplomatic issues. The Likud cannot be a partner. I believe in my ideology and no political deal or job will make me sacrifice my principles." Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post that the Likud "will form a coalition with whomever shares our policy guidelines, and Labor doesn't, so [sitting in a coalition with Labor] doesn't seem to be practical." But reports over the weekend suggested that Shalom cleared the idea with Netanyahu before suggesting it. Kadima officials scoffed at the idea that a way could be found to block them from forming the coalition. Education Minister Meir Sheetrit told Israel Radio that a Likud-Labor government would be "as impossible as a partnership between a bird and a fish - whether they are in the air or the sea, one of them will die." In a meeting with the top 51 Kadima candidates near Latrun on Friday, Olmert called upon the Kadima candidates to "act with restraint" when attacking the other parties. "For the first time, all of the parties are united in targeting one party," Olmert said. "Usually the struggle is between right and left, but this time, everyone is attacking Kadima in the center. I understand the pressure they are under, but we will continue acting with proper judgment and responsibility. Our restraint is our power. In four more weeks, all of this will be over." Nonetheless, Kadima strategists Lior Chorev, Reuven Adler and Eyal Arad intend to reveal several new commercials attacking Netanyahu in a press conference at Kadima headquarters on Sunday. The first commercials will go on-line on the party's Web site on Sunday, giving the party a jump start before all the parties' election commercials are broadcast nightly on all three channels starting on Tuesday night. Adler revealed over the weekend that contrary to expectations that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would be the star of the campaign, Olmert will be in every Kadima commercial.