Netanyahu’s coalition offer splits Kadima

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 26, 2009

Senior figures in Kadima are putting pressure on leader Tzipi Livni to accept Prime Minister-elect Binyamin Netanyahu’s offer to participate in a national unity coalition.

The two party leaders met on Sunday and Mr Netanyahu, tasked by President Shimon Peres last Friday with forming Israel’s next government, offered Kadima eight ministerial positions — equal to that of Likud — including two out of the three senior portfolios of defence, finance and foreign affairs.

He also offered them full partnership in drafting the government’s policy guidelines and the post of vice-premier for Ms Livni. But the offer was rejected by Ms Livni, who said that joining Mr Netanyahu’s government would be “a betrayal of the voters’ trust”.

Mr Netanyahu can rely on the support of 65 Knesset members from the right-wing and religious parties, giving his coalition the necessary majority. However, he is anxious to form a larger coalition that includes Kadima.

A national unity government, with a broader parliamentary base, will make it harder for the smaller parties to make exorbitant demands over cabinet portfolios and budgets, or to tilt policy in a radical direction.

The Likud leader is also under pressure from the more moderate members of his party — who are worried about Israel’s international image — not to form a coalition solely with parties that are to the right of Likud.

While Ms Livni still enjoys considerable support within her party, especially due to its unexpectedly good electoral showing, there is already a significant body of opinion within Kadima which favours joining the coalition.

This is being led by the party’s number two, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, and former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, both of whom could expect to be appointed to senior Cabinet posts in a national unity government.

So far, no major figures in the party have openly challenged Ms Livni’s leadership, but Mr Mofaz made his views clear on Tuesday when, in a radio interview, he said: “Running into opposition is not a sacred duty, we have to make a supreme effort to reach a unity government… we did not get 28 seats to sit in opposition.” He stressed, though, that he supported Ms Livni’s moves.

Meanwhile, Likud has begun dealing with the demands of its other potential coalition partners. Yisrael Beiteinu, which emerged from the elections as the third largest party in the Knesset, was expected to demand five cabinet portfolios, including the Foreign Affairs Ministry for its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, and the Justice and Internal Security ministries. These demands will cause a major headache for Mr Netanyahu, who is trying to project a more “moderate” image of Israel in the international arena.

Last updated: 1:17pm, March 17 2009