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Middle east

Livni says no to Netanyahu premiership

Latest update : 2009-02-15

While Israel's centrist Kadima party on Sunday called for a power-sharing deal with the right-wing party Likud, current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni ruled out any premiership role for its leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

AFP -  Israel's centrist Kadima party on Sunday called for a power-sharing deal with right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu amid furious haggling in the wake of tight parliamentary elections.
  
"A rotation is the minimum that Kadima can demand so that a stable government sees the light of day," said Avi Dichter, a Kadima member and public security minister in the outgoing government.
  
He was referring to a power-sharing arrangement Israel had in 1984 after another close ballot, when the two top parties each held the post of prime minister for two years.
  
Kadima chief and current Foreign Minister "Tzipi Livni has received the preference of public opinion and Netanyahu has to admit so. We have to have a fair equilibrium" between the two parties, Dichter said.
  
Netanyahu has so far rejected the rotating premiership option.
  
Although Kadima won 28 seats in last week's general election, one more than the Likud, Netanyahu is widely tipped to become the next prime minister.
  
Under Israeli law, the person charged with trying to form a new government  is not necessarily the leader of the largest party but the one with the best chances of cobbling together a coalition capable of securing a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
  
Netanyahu, with support from fellow right-wing parties that dominated the February 10 vote, can rely on 65 seats in parliament, whereas Livni has the backing of 44.
  
A purely right-wing government would be highly unstable, however, with most observers predicting its demise within 18 months or so, and Netanyahu is thought to prefer a broad coalition that would include Kadima.
  
Livni has so far insisted that she should lead any unity government.
  
Her Kadima faction met behind closed doors on Sunday to consider its options.
  
"We are the only ones capable of forming a national unity government," Livni told reporters ahead of the meeting.
  
Parliament speaker Dalia Itzik, a senior member of Kadima, told reporters:  "If Tzipi Livni is not prime minister, we will discuss going into the opposition."
  
Earlier, Livni was filmed at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting passing a message to party colleague and outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying: "Kadima will not join a coalition led by Netanyahu," military radio reported.
  
Olmert has urged Livni to go into opposition rather than join a Netanyahu-led administration.
  
"Go into opposition and you will steer Kadima to victory in the next elections," Israeli media quoted Olmert as telling Livni.
  
The chairman of the Kadima parliamentary faction, Yoel Hasson, told the Ynet news website the party "must not enter the coalition and make an extreme-right government under Netanyahu seem kosher. That sort of government will never be able to lead a diplomatic process or change the method of government."
  
But should Likud offer Kadima a rotation that would "entirely change the picture. That's a completely different story."
  
Livni, a 50-year-old lawyer bidding to become Israel's second woman prime minister, is thought to favour going into opposition rather than joining a Netanyahu-led government, the Haaretz daily said.
  
"A majority of members are likely to back Livni's position" during the party's meeting on Sunday, it said.
  
If Kadima goes into opposition, Netanyahu will be forced to form a coalition with the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu of controversial Avigdor Lieberman, as well as ultra-Orthodox parties and extreme right-wing settler groups.
  
Such a government would put Bibi, as Netanyahu is widely called in Israel, at odds with the administration of US President Barack Obama, who has vowed to vigorously pursue Middle East peace talks, observers say.
  
As the political wrangling continued, the Likud urged Kadima to join a Netanyahu-led cabinet.
  
"It is unfortunate that Livni will not set petty politics aside and consider national interests as a top priority," the party said in a statement.
  
Official results from the election will be published on Wednesday. President Shimon Peres then has seven days to consult the various factions before tasking a member of parliament with trying to form a new government.

Date created : 2009-02-15

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