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Barak and Mofaz not closing door on joining unity government

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    Barak and Mofaz not closing door on joining unity government REBECCA ANNA STOIL, GIL HOFFMAN and JONNY HADI , THE JERUSALEM POST Mar. 1, 2009
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1 1:06 AM
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      Barak and Mofaz not closing door on joining unity government

      A day after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni told Prime Minister-designate Binyamin
      Netanyahu that she will not bring her party into his government, both her
      Kadima rival, Shaul Mofaz, and Labor chairman Ehud Barak engendered hope
      that a national-unity government can still be formed.

      Sources close to Barak said they expected pressure on Labor to join the
      government-in-formation to grow over the next few days, creating an
      atmosphere that would make it difficult for the party's leaders to refuse
      generous offers from the Likud.

      Likud officials have been lobbying Labor MKs intensely in recent days and
      have made it clear that more than half of the party's 13 MKs could be
      ministers or deputy ministers.

      They have also emphasized that Barak was badly needed in the Defense
      Ministry due to the looming Iranian threat.

      "In the next few days, Barak could say that at such a fateful time it would
      be irresponsible to allow Netanyahu to form a right-wing government that
      could endanger the country's future," a Barak confidant predicted on
      Saturday night.

      "He is not ready to say it yet, but pressure will grow over the next few
      days. Reality will require us to join in the end, but meanwhile we have to
      play it cool."

      Barak's associates stressed that he had not yet made a decision about
      whether to join the government, but they said that if he did decide to join,
      eight or nine Labor MKs would support him, perhaps even including MK Ophir
      Paz-Pines, one of the most vocal opponents of Labor entering a Netanyahu

      One senior Labor official stressed over the weekend that serving as second
      fiddle in an opposition led by Kadima would render the already-dwindling
      party completely irrelevant.

      "Our possibility is between quick suicide with Netanyahu or slow death with
      Livni," he said.

      On the other side of the table, sources close to Netanyahu admitted that he
      preferred Labor to Kadima in his coalition all along, but that he had been
      aware it would be tough for Barak to persuade his party to join the
      government if it did not get at least 15 seats, and it won only 13.

      Likud officials said they were also still hoping that Mofaz could force
      Livni to form a coalition negotiating team.

      Mofaz will push Livni to form such a team - or at least appoint a mediator -
      in Monday's Kadima faction meeting. His confidants said that Kadima
      ministers had finally realized since Livni turned down Netanyahu on Friday
      that this was their last chance to speak up and prevent the party from going
      to the opposition.

      "What the Likud offered can certainly be a basis for talks," Mofaz said in
      closed conversations over the weekend. "The people want unity and before you
      slam the door on it, you have to at least check whether we can find common
      ground with the Likud."

      Mofaz said over the weekend "he was convinced that the party will still join
      the coalition. Good sense will win out. The diplomatic issue was not an
      excuse to not join.

      "Netanyahu will talk to the Palestinians and try to reach a deal with them.
      He knows that this is his last opportunity. When he gets to the White House
      and talks to Obama it will lead to him removing outposts.

      "He knows he needs the world's support, because what matters most to
      Netanyahu is the Iranian threat," Mofaz added. "As long as he is willing to
      do that and to change the governmental system, there is no reason to stay
      out of the government."

      Livni reportedly met with Mofaz and other members of Kadima who opposed the
      decision to go into the opposition, telling them that should Israel decide
      to attack Iran, Kadima would throw its support behind Netanyahu's

      This flurry of events followed the collapse of talks between Likud and
      Kadima after Friday's meeting between Netanyahu and Livni, billed as a
      last-ditch attempt to form a unity government, ended without a breakthrough.

      Livni said Netanyahu failed to make a commitment that his government's
      platform would include pursuing an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.

      "I came for a second meeting with the Likud leader to hear his vision and
      the way he believes is correct," Livni said after the meeting in Tel Aviv.
      "Israel is facing challenges and I told him that Kadima would support the
      correct moves made by the government.

      "But to deal with the challenges, I wanted three basic principles that you
      [already] know about," she told reporters. "Two states for two peoples is
      not an empty slogan. It is the only way Israel can remain Jewish and fight
      terrorism. It's a fundamental issue."

      Livni said a unity government would have been possible provided it included
      plans for a two-state solution, changes to the electoral system, and
      Interior Ministry reforms.

      She lamented, however, that Netanyahu was not committed on those subjects,
      and pledged to be "a responsible" opposition.

      "This meeting has ended without agreements on issues that I see as
      essential," she said. "There could be a government that advances these
      issues. At the moment, based on the discussions I held in the adjacent room,
      that government won't be Netanyahu's."

      Nevertheless, Netanyahu said after the meeting that he had been "prepared to
      go very far" to form a unity government, indicating that, despite her pre-
      and post-election promises, Livni did not have such "willingness for unity,"
      which he said was particularly vital now, considering the escalating Iranian
      threat and growing unemployment.

      Netanyahu insisted that he had offered her "full partnership" in setting the
      new government's guidelines.

      "Unity requires compromise and I was prepared to go in that direction," he
      said. "I also offered an equal number of ministries, including two out of
      the top three, I said I intended to move peace negotiations forward, and
      that we would act to advance civil unions and to introduce electoral

      "If there's a will, there's a way; and if there is a will, there is unity,"
      he continued.

      "In my opinion, the gaps can be bridged, but I was met with total rejection
      and a refusal to even agree to set up dialogue teams in order to strike a
      partnership," he said. "I didn't find that Livni had the willingness for
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