Sunday, March 15, 2009

Likud officials: Netanyahu not interested in rotation

Coalition talks with Kadima resumed last week, but sources close to PM-designate say he is unenthusiastic about Livni's demand for rotation in prime minister's role. Netanyahu, Livni hold several secret meetings in bid to bridge gaps

Attila Somfalvi
Israel News

The resumption of secret coalition talks between the Likud and Kadima parties have stirred the political system. Over the weekend, Likud, Kadima and Labor Party officials continued to discuss the possibility of forming a national unity government. However, senior Likud officials who spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu got the impression that the prime minister-designate is unenthusiastic about Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni's demand for a rotation in the prime minister's role.

Netanyahu and Livni met several times last week and spoke on the phone a few more times. Ynet has also learned that the Likud leader's associate, Attorney Yitzhak Molcho, was privy to the talks and was helping bridge the differences.

Sources involved in the talks told Ynet that Livni wants "the entire package" from Netanyahu and would not settle for only part of the demands. In the meetings, the Kadima chairwoman reiterated her demand for an equal government which would be based on Kadima and the Likud, and a commitment from Netanyahu in the diplomatic field.

Ynet reported on Friday that the secret talks between Kadima and the Likud were resumed in recent days. Netanyahu even spoke to senior Kadima officials, but a party source clarified that "these are not negotiation discussions".

Other senior officials from both parties also held secret talks, including Knesset Members Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) and Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima), who discussed the possibility of resuming the official negotiations for the establishment of a unity government.

A source involved in the talks told Ynet, "The negotiations on the technical issues can be finalized within a very short while. It's nonsense. The problem is with the demand for a rotation."

Sources in the political arena noted that Netanyahu planned to meet with President Shimon Peres in the coming days in order to receive an extension for the mission of forming a new government, but that he appeared not to be pleased with the matter.

"He prefers not to ask for two more weeks. The agreement between the two parties could be finalized this week if wanted," one of the sources said.

Sources close to Livni clarified that in spite of the talks with the Likud chairman, there was no essential change in the matter. "At the moment nothing has changed in terms of the fundamental issues," one of them said. "Netanyahu hasn't changed his views in a significant manner."

One of the proposals raised in the secret talks was an unequal rotation, which would have Netanyahu serve as prime minister for three years and Livni serve as prime minister for less than two years. Netanyahu is unsatisfied with the rotation demand, while Livni's associates say she is interested in an equal rotation.

Marathon meetings with right-wing parties

The talks are expected to continue in the coming days, in a bid to lead a move which would allow Kadima to join Netanyahu's government. However, the chances that the talks will bear fruit are unclear.

There are those who believe that the differences can be bridged soon and that Kadima will be able to join the government, but there are also officials in both parties who believe that the move is doomed to fail, particularly in light of Netanyahu's refusal to accept Livni's demands.

President Peres is also privy to the talks. Knowledgeable sources told Ynet that Peres had held several discussions with various elements and had been briefed on the details of the talks.

Meanwhile, the Likud's negotiating team is speeding up its talks with Yisrael Beiteinu and the other right-wing parties in a bid to sign coalition agreements soon. Marathon meetings are expected to be held into the night Sunday with the parties slated to join the coalition.

The Likud and National Union representatives agreed on Friday to make the yeshiva funding an integral part of the State Budget, but there are still disagreements in regards to the National Union's demand to receive the Housing portfolio and the role of deputy minister in the Defense Ministry.

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