Netanyahu Fails to Lure Rivals to Israel Govt

Israel’s right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu failed Monday, February 23, to persuade top rivals to join a coalition cabinet, raising the possibility of forming a right-wing government that is likely to kill peace chances in the Middle East.

"The people have spoken and decided to send Labor into the opposition and we respect their choice," Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said following talks with Netanyahu, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"We will be a responsible, serious and constructive opposition," added Barak, whose party won 13 seats in the February 10 elections.

Kadima leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also insisted that her party, which won 28 seats in parliament, would not join a Likud-led government.

"We didn’t reach any agreement on decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Livni said on Sunday following talks with the Likud leader.

"On the essential subject for arriving at a (coalition) agreement — that there should be two states for two peoples and a final accord with the Palestinians — there is no agreements been leading Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians."

Netanyahu, who was named on Friday to form a new government, has vowed that there would be no Palestinian state if his party was elected.

The hawkish leader advocates a longer-term, "bottom-up" approach to peace with the Palestinians built on economic development of the West Bank and a gradual handover to Palestinian security forces.

Netanyahu has 27 seats in parliament and can theoretically count on support from fellow right-wingers for a 65-bloc in the 120-member parliament.

He, however, favors a broad alliance over a purely right-wing coalition that would be unlikely to last a full term and would put Israel at odds with the Obama administration.

"He is terrified by the possibility that he will have to present a narrow government to Barack Obama," the Maariv newspaper wrote.

"It keeps him awake at night."

Netanyahu headed a right-wing government in 1996, but it fell apart three years later when small far-right parties quit in protest over deals he struck with the Palestinians under US pressure.

Tough Start

The stumbled coalition government talks come as the Czech EU presidency expected a "bit of a rough start" if Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new premier.

"I think we can have a bit of a rough start," Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, whose country is the current EU president, said.

"We need to move ahead with the peace process because the two-state solution road is narrowing," he added ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt denounced the conditions which Netanyahu has imposed for parties to join a national unity government.

"He is discussing putting conditions that are clearly incompatible with existing commitments of the peace process," Bildt said as he entered the talks.

"It is very important to send a strong signal that this is not going to be acceptable."

EU foreign ministers stressed that a two-state solution was the only option for establishing peace.

"It’s simply not possible to abandon this strategy of two states living in peace and security," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

"And I think prime minister-designate Mr Netanyahu will follow such a strategy."
 ( and Agencies)

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