Netanyahu meets Livni in fresh bid for coalition govt

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was making a fresh bid on Friday to persuade Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to bring her centrist Kadima party into an Israeli coalition that would otherwise be dominated by right-wing parties.

Netanyahu let Kadima know ahead of Friday’s meeting that if it joins his coalition, the two parties would formulate government policy together, public radio reported.

So far, Livni has rejected Netanyahu’s advances, arguing that the former premier would block any chance of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

”Netanyahu does not believe in the peace process and is prisoner of the right-wing’s traditional vision,” Livni said in an interview with the Maariv newspaper.

”Under these circumstances the best option is to serve the people from the opposition benches,” she said.

But Netanyahu reportedly told visiting United States Middle East envoy George Mitchell behind closed doors on Thursday that he intends to advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians and would respect commitments made by previous governments.

Livni is expected to press the issue of the peace talks during her talks with Netanyahu on Friday, the second such meeting since February 10 elections.

Maariv said the foreign minister will tell Netanyahu: ”I want you to commit yourself publicly, before the people and [US President Barack] Obama, to the principle of two states for two peoples.”

The Likud leader ”will shrink into his seat”, the daily said. ”He understands that if he comes out with such a declaration at this time, his natural partners on the right will grumble, mutter something about betrayal and leave.”

The English-language Jerusalem Post said it appeared highly unlikely the two would reach a coalition agreement.

”Barring a surprise turnaround, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni will put an end to any remaining hopes in the Likud that a national unity government with Kadima could be formed,” the newspaper said.

Netanyahu formed a right-wing government when he became Israel’s youngest prime minister in 1996. It fell apart three years later when small far-right parties quit in protest over deals he struck with the Palestinians under US pressure.

Netanyahu agreed to hand over control of parts of the West Bank city of Hebron to the Palestinians, but he also put the brakes on the peace process, in part by authorising an expansion of Jewish settlements in the territory.

Although Likud won 27 seats in the election — one less than Kadima — Netanyahu has been tasked with forming the next Cabinet as he stands a better chance of cobbling together a coalition by an early April deadline. — Sapa-AFP

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