Israel’s Livni to call for early general elections

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was expected to announce her failure to form a new government on Sunday and call for snap general elections to be held early next year.

“I’m not willing to be blackmailed, either diplomatically or in terms of the budget, and therefore, I will go to elections,” Livni told Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper following weeks of negotiations with rival political parties.

“The other possibility was for me to capitulate to extortion. But a government is supposed to advance processes and represent the good of the country, not just to survive in this or that coalition,” she added.

Livni said she would make the announcement following a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres at 3pm GMT.

A call for snap elections would extend the country’s political limbo for at least another three months and could lead to the demise of the already stalled United States-backed Middle East peace process relaunched last November.

Since she was charged last month with forming a government to replace that of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — who is stepping down amid graft allegations — Livni has been struggling to cobble together a new coalition.

Her Kadima party holds 29 seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset and she has secured a draft coalition agreement with the centre-left Labour party of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, which holds 19 seats.

But the ultra-Orthodox Shas party — a crucial ally in Olmert’s coalition with 12 seats — said last week it would not join her government, and it was unclear if she could win over enough other, smaller parties to form a majority.

Livni ramped up the pressure further last week by warning that if she could not form a government by Sunday she would call for early general elections, which recent polls indicate could bring the right-wing Likud party to power.

Peres asked Livni on September 22 to form a new government after she won a Kadima party vote to replace Olmert as party head.

Livni, a 51-year-old former Mossad agent, hopes to become Israel’s second woman prime minister after Golda Meir, who held office from 1969 to 1974.

As foreign minister she has been heading negotiations with the Palestinians formally relaunched last November at a US conference — talks that have all but ground to a halt amid Israel’s political uncertainty. – AFP

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