PM feels he can go left, keep coalition

Kadima expected to refuse Netanyahu's call to join coalition, but bill may let Mofaz return to the Likud.

mofaz 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
mofaz 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not believe that any of the parties in his coalition would leave at this stage if his diplomatic policies shifted leftward in Sunday's address at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, sources close to Netanyahu said Thursday. The sources said the Right learned lessons from toppling right-wing governments in the past, including Netanyahu's first administration, which led to left-wing governments that expedited diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria. They said that from his meetings with coalition partners, Netanyahu got the impression that they understood the pressure he was under from US President Barack Obama's administration and the need to maintain close ties with America ahead of key decisions that would have to be made regarding Iran. Netanyahu will meet with on Friday with the three MKs of Habayit Hayehudi, who consider themselves the most right-wing faction in the coalition. Regardless of what happens with the Right, Netanyahu is expected to publicly call for Kadima to join the coalition in the days after Sunday's speech. Sources close to Netanyahu admitted that the prime minister did not believe that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni would be willing to bring her party into the coalition no matter what he would say in his speech. They said a call to Kadima to join would only be intended to cause tension inside Kadima that they hope could lead to an eventual split in the party. Within the next two week, the Likud will formally propose the so-called "Mofaz bill," which would make it easier for the former Likud minister to break off from Kadima and return to his former party. The current law requires the support of a third of a faction to split it. In Kadima's case, that would mean 10 MKs. The "Mofaz bill" would require only seven MKs. A Kadima MK said that even if Netanyahu shifted sharply leftward, Livni would use any excuse not to join the coalition, because she believes that if she remained opposition leader, the Prime Minister's Office would eventually fall into her hands. Several Kadima MKs have said in private conversations that they were still hoping to join the coalition, but only Shaul Mofaz and Ronit Tirosh have said so publicly. Army Radio reported on Thursday that Netanyahu and Mofaz intended to meet secretly but canceled it after their report was broadcast. Mofaz denied the report. "If in the speech, Netanyahu says he would act according to the road map and he recognized the need for two states for two peoples, then he would be accepting Kadima's views and there would be no reason to remain outside the coalition," Tirosh said. "I don't know why others in the faction are afraid to say so publicly." A leftward shift by Netanyahu could also reunite the Labor Party, where five rebel MKs have protested entering the government. Labor sources said the rebels, whose battle against Labor chairman Ehud Barak was personal, would not come on board but more ideological rebels could come in line. "If the prime minister accepts the Annapolis process and starts a true path to peace, we would certainly support it," a spokesman for one of the rebel MKs said. "We couldn't go against the government or the party if that's what happens. We have to put the country first." A leftward shift would have the opposite affect inside Netanyahu's Likud faction, where 20 MKs have come out against a Palestinian state. The only Likud MKs who would back him if he backed a Palestinian state are Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan, Silvan Shalom, Yossi Peled, Haim Katz and Carmel Shama. Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who is one of the Likud's leading opponents of a Palestinian state, said he did not believe that Netanyahu would call for the formation of such a state at Bar-Ilan. Edelstein said the current situation was different than what happened with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, because leftist Likud MKs left to Kadima, Netanyahu's background was different than Sharon's and because of the bad experiences of the Gaza Strip withdrawal. "He has to somehow find a formula that would keep the diplomatic process going without saying two-state solution," Edelstein said. "He's a bright man. Even with the pressure he is under, I doubt he would say something like that."