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Report: Livni to recommend early Israeli elections

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081025/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_israel_politics Report: Livni to recommend early Israeli elections By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 25, 2008

      Report: Livni to recommend early Israeli elections

      By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer Steve Weizman, Associated Press Writer – 25 mins ago

      JERUSALEM – Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni has given up efforts to form a coalition government and will recommend early elections, Israeli radio stations reported Saturday night.

      Israel Radio and Army Radio both said that after consulting with her advisers during the evening, Livni decided not to continue coalition talks and to tell President Shimon Peres on Sunday to call a general election, most probably in February. That would be more than a year ahead of schedule.

      There was no official announcement and Livni's spokesman did not answer repeated phone calls.

      The centrist Kadima party chose Livni, 50, a month ago to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is stepping down amid a corruption scandal.

      Opinion polls have indicated that the hawkish Likud party led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would sweep to power in an early election. He takes a harder line on peace talks with the Palestinians than Livni, who has been conciliatory toward Arab leaders and says her goal is a full peace treaty with the Palestinians as soon as possible.

      Earlier Saturday, Cabinet minister Tzahi Hanegbi, Livni's point man on the coalition talks, said in a television interview that Livni would formally make her decision known to Peres on Sunday.

      "Tomorrow afternoon she will go to the president," he said. At the time of that interview, Hanegbi said Livni was still undecided.

      Livni on Thursday gave her potential coalition partners an ultimatum, saying they had three days to join a new government under her leadership or face the prospect of early elections.

      Her Kadima party already had the backing of the center-left Labor party and was expected to keep the small Pensioners party in the government but needed the ultra-Orthodox Shas party to secure a solid majority in the 120-seat parliament.

      On Friday, however, Shas said it would not join Livni as she had refused to pledge that the future status of Jerusalem would not be on the agenda in negotiations with the Palestinians.

      Sovereignty over Arab parts of Jerusalem, where around 270,000 Palestinians live, is a key Palestinian demand without which a peace treaty would be impossible.

      The renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a U.S.-hosted conference last November was supposed to have produced a final deal by the end of 2008, but there has been no agreement and both sides have acknowledged that the target is unreachable.

      Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Saturday that a scheduled Monday meeting between Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had been postponed until further notice. He did not say why.

      Israel Radio, citing unnamed Abbas aides, said the postponement was due to internal Israeli political events.

      Given the lack of movement toward a peace treaty so far and the lack of any encouraging signs for the near future, Palestinian and Israeli analysts say that an Israeli election, even if it were to put opposition leader Netanyahu in power at the head of a hardline rightist government, could ultimately have less impact than the upcoming U.S. presidential vote.

      "Netanyahu is definitely bad news for the peace process — that doesn't exist anyhow — and Livni is a person who was the chief negotiator, and she didn't do anything," said Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in the Palestinian Cabinet.

      "The only other alternative is if the American administration will try to engage," Khatib said. "This can make a difference, regardless of the (composition of) the Israeli government."

      Israeli political commentator Hanan Crystal agreed.

      "That is always the case. It's an axiom," he said.

      Peres could technically ask another politician to try to form a government before elections are forced. However, as leader of the largest party in parliament, Livni was the only candidate with a realistic chance of doing so.

      An election victory would make the former lawyer and one-time agent in the Mossad spy agency Israel's second female prime minister after Golda Meir, who served from 1969-1974.
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