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Pressures Persist for Livni to Join Netanyahu Gov’t

Olmert tells Jewish Agency he’s in favor of national unity gov’t, and Mofaz – Kadima’s #2 – agrees as well. Will Livni remain alone?
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/24/2009, 2:22 PM

Kadima’s refusal to enter a national unity government with the Likud is not as absolute as it has been made to appear.  Both outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Kadima party) and the #2 man in Kadima, Transportation Minister Sha’ul Mofaz, say a unity government is a good idea. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, for her part, says, “As of now, we are in the Opposition.”

Livni met with Netanyahu on Sunday night, and said afterwards that major differences between her party and the Likud were still extant.  She is against joining a government headed by Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Olmert, however, feels differently. Meeting on Monday night with representatives of the Jewish Agency, Olmert told them he favors the establishment of a national unity government.  “I’m not hiding my opinion that we need a broad government," Olmert said. "Netanyahu is a patriot, and even when he was Prime Minister in the past, he understood his responsibility to the peace process.”

Olmert and Netanyahu have been political rivals for years.

Just over a week ago, open microphones caught Olmert and Livni talking to each other at the start of a Cabinet meeting.  Olmert said he was going to speak in favor of a unity government, and Livni frowned and requested, “Don’t do that to me.” When they noticed the microphones, she wrote him a note, saying, “I have no intention of being in a unity [government] headed by Bibi, and do not hint in that direction. What you are saying leads towards that, and this is not Kadima’s position.”

Mofaz Takes Initiative
Mofaz, for his part, seems to have re-awakened his rivalry with Livni.  Speaking with Army Radio Tuesday morning, Mofaz said, “We need not sanctify the idea of sitting in the Opposition.  I’m not among those in the party who see the Opposition as the end-all goal.  We should make supreme efforts to reach an agreement with the Likud about changing the system of government and the continued diplomatic process with the Palestinians and with Syria.”

“We didn’t receive 28 Knesset mandates [from the voters] in order to sit in the Opposition,” said Mofaz, who lost narrowly to Livni in primaries in September ’08 for party leadership. 

Asked if he intends to lead a group of “rebel” Kadima MKs into a Netanyahu-led government in the event that Livni insists on remaining in the Opposition, Mofaz said that a party split is not an option. “Sometimes there are differences of opinion,” he said.

Repeat of 2005?
Many remember how Mofaz entered Kadima, however.  In December 2005, just a few hours after he said publicly that he would not quit the Likud and would continue his race to be elected the leader of that party, he announced that he had decided to join Ariel Sharon and his Kadima party.  Within a period of a few days before jumping ship, he both expressed strong criticism of Kadima – saying it had a hodge-podge of opinions and would not “show the proper determination to stand up for Israel's critical needs" – and also said that the politicians who switch from party to party "show a lack of stability and a lack of leadership."

Livni must therefore brace for a possible defection by Mofaz and several other party members whose support he enjoys.  Many observers feel, however, that unless Netanyahu takes pro-active steps to entice the Mofaz group, such a defection is not expected to occur in the coming weeks, if at all.