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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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Will Tzipi Livni join Benjamin Netanyahu?

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."

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