Netanyahu leans centrist to form unity government in Israel
While the Likud chairman has broad support among right-wing parties after parliamentary polls, he’s courting Kadima’s Livni.
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Mr. Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli leader of the Likud party, is expected to ask Ms. Livni – who heads the centrist Kadima party – just that in a meeting Sunday night as he focuses on forming a new government, something the Israeli president formally asked him to do on Friday.
While Netanyahu has a clear majority of right-wing parties eager to join him following the Feb. 10 election, he is showing a clear preference for a centrist, national unity government that would include Kadima instead of a right-wing coalition.
Netanyahu, a controversial former prime minister, knows that a government without Livni is likely to be viewed as a pariah on the international stage, analysts say. And a hard-line, right-wing cabinet would potentially shackle him and prevent him from taking even the most moderate steps toward peace with the Arab world.
Livni, the foreign minister, won the largest number of seats in the election – Kadima took 28 of the 120 available, compared with Likud's 27 – but found herself unable to muster a sufficient number of political parties that would constitute a governing majority in parliament.
Israeli newspapers here were full of articles of the "tempting" and "generous" offers Netanyahu was to present to Livni in their Sunday meeting, including a proposal that the two party leaders would jointly write government guidelines.
"A real attempt needs to be made to reach a joint position, from within mutual respect and real discussion," Netanyahu said. "It is possible to achieve unity through dialogue and not through dictates and forcing our hand. I have no doubt that whoever sees the state's best interest will place unity as a central goal."
But Livni, meanwhile, had announced over the weekend that she had no interest in joining a rightist government headed by Netanyahu.
"I don't want to be Netanyahu's international stain remover," the foreign minister said last week, adding that she would prefer to be an opposition leader than join a government that would surely bring paralysis to the peace process.
She faces increasing pressure from two camps within the Kadima coalition: left-wing parties such as Labor and Meretz, and other swing voters who left their parties to vote for her earlier this month.
One camp is urging her to be cooperative for the good of the country and join Netanyahu, so as to block the advent of a far-right government. The other is demanding that she stick to her principles and head the opposition rather than sit in a government with ultranationalist parties such as Yisrael Beytenu and smaller parties that represent Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
"Netanyahu is aware that a right-wing religious coalition will expose him to pressure from the West, and that for him it will be better to have a broad coalition," says Shmuel Sandler, an expert on the Israeli political system at Bar-Ilan University, near Tel Aviv. Moreover, Mr. Sandler notes, many of the key figures in Kadima – Livni included – started out in the Likud and bolted in 2005 with Ariel Sharon.