Israel’s Livni-Netanyahu Talks on Unity Govt Fail

Israeli right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist Tzipi Livni met on Friday but failed to agree on forming a coalition government and left it unclear whether negotiations between their parties would continue.

After meeting for over an hour in Tel Aviv, each came out and blamed the other for lacking the will to compromise and form a broad-based, national unity government. Livni indicated her disappointment with Netanyahu’s skeptical approach to peace talks with the Palestinians, which she has led since 2007. However, neither of them ruled out further coalition negotiations.

"I have done everything possible to achieve unity … but to my great regret, I faced categorical rejection from Mrs Livni," Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud party said.

Though outgoing Foreign Minister Livni’s Kadima party won a Feb. 10 parliamentary election by one seat from Netanyahu’s Likud, neither controls even a quarter of the 120-seat Knesset. The president nominated the latter to try to form a government, on the basis that the new parliament has a right-wing majority.

Key Issues of Difference

Netanyahu still has over a month to form a government and has made clear that, while he can do so with right-wing parties, he would prefer a broader administration with the centrists.

For her part, Livni said the talks "concluded without agreement on key issues, and we cannot be part of Netanyahu’s government." Among these, Livni has stressed her desire to negotiate for a Palestinian state, something Netanyahu has said is less of a priority for Likud.

"We will be a responsible opposition," she told media after the meeting in Tel Aviv, the second such talks since the Feb. 10 elections.

Livni said, "A two-state solution is not simply a hollow slogan — it is the only way in which Israel can remain a democratic, Jewish state and it is the only way in which it can enlist an international coalition that will allow it to act and to confront the Iranian threat and terrorism." 

Netanyahu said he was prepared to make major concessions to Livni. "It is clear to all of us that a unity government will force compromises from both sides," he said.

Netanyahu said he told Livni he intended to continue peace talks with the Palestinians, but did not specify his approach. He has said in the past he will focus on bolstering the economy of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and is keen to set limits on the powers of any Palestinian state before it is established.

Netanyahu reportedly told visiting US 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.

The failure of Netanyahu’s talks with Livni is bound to fuel concern among Palestinians and the international community. With a right-wing coalition now a strong probability, there are fears it would torpedo a Middle East peace process that is already in virtual limbo.

While he was prime minister 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 authorizing an expansion of Jewish settlements in the territory.

( and Agencies)

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