Israel’s hard-line prime minister designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, was meeting yesterday with the head of the dovish Labor Party after so far failing to tempt centrist leader Tzipi Livni into a broad, moderate, coalition government.
Reluctant to rely for support on ultra-nationalists to his right, Netanyahu has appealed to Livni and Labor leader and outgoing Defense Minister Ehud to join him as partners in government but both have said they would rather go into opposition.
After a late-night meeting on Sunday Livni said she and Netanyahu were still at odds over efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.
“We didn’t reach any agreement. There are deep disagreements on this issue,” she said. “This evening did not progress us on the core issues in a way that we can talk about a joint path.”
Netanyahu said he and Livni found many points of agreement and their disagreement could be “overcome with goodwill.” He did not give details of the meeting.
“If we want to find what unites us, it is possible and it is necessary at times like these,” he said.
Both said they agreed to meet again soon.
Netanyahu, of the Likud party, is expected to make Livni’s Kadima party a generous offer that includes allowing her to remain as foreign minister. Bringing in Livni would reduce international pressure on Israel and help stabilize Netanyahu’s government. If he fails, he will have to turn to a narrow coalition with hard-liners that could halt peace talks with Palestinians and harm Israel’s ties with the administration of US President Barack Obama, which has promised to make pursuing Mideast peace a priority.
Netanyahu tried to calm such concerns on Sunday.
“I intend and expect to cooperate with the Obama administration and to try to advance the common goals of peace, security and prosperity for us and our neighbors,” Netanyahu told reporters on his way into the meeting with Livni. “I hope to do so in a unity government.”
US Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is visiting Israel, said a Netanyahu-led government — even one formed with a right-leaning alliance — would continue to enjoy good relations with Washington: “Our enemies, unfortunately, are as common as the values and the interests that have united us for all these years.”
While Livni supports the formation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Netanyahu does not. He has championed an “economic peace” with the Palestinians as an alternative and supported West Bank settlement expansion that has irked Palestinian leaders.
Speaking to Kadima lawmakers on Sunday, Livni seemed eager to assume the role of opposition leader.
“The choice is between hope and despair, between promoting and implementing the vision of two states for two peoples and between a lack of direction in that field,” she said, adding that if Kadima compromised its platform to join the government it would be “betraying the trust of the public.”
Kadima won 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament in the Feb. 10 election — one more than Likud. However, Israeli President Shimon Peres has appointed Netanyahu to form the next government because he has the support of a majority of the elected lawmakers..