The Jerusalem Post (Link) (February 19, 2009)
Hours before President Shimon Peres was expected to complete his consultations with party representatives and decide who to task with forming the next government, and after Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said his party would back Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni said that her party would not sit in a Likud-led government.
"Today, the foundations of a right-wing extremist government under Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu were set," Livni wrote in a cellular phone text message sent to Kadima members after she had met with party MKs. "Such a government is not our path and we have nothing to look for there."
"They didn't vote for us in order to provide authorization for a right-wing government and we need to provide an alternative of hope from the opposition," Livni continued. "Kadima will continue to fight for its beliefs and its path - an agenda based on two states for two peoples, and one that also includes dealing with vital civilian issues."
Like Livni, Labor chairman Ehud Barak said earlier Thursday that his party was heading for the opposition. Nevertheless, Netanyhau said he would still appeal to the two in a bid to try and form a unity government, and Peres was due to invite the Likud and Kadima leaders to meet with him in person on Friday.
At the President's Residence on Thursday morning, Lieberman had conditioned his recommendation of Natanyahu for prime minister on the formation of a broad government that would include Kadima, but said that he was opposed to a rotation at the helm of the government. Lieberman said that he was opposed to the option of an "unstable government composed of 65 MKs from six parties... Both Netanyahu and Livni will be committed to constructing a foundation, drafting guidelines, and agreeing on principles," Lieberman said. "Bibi needs to get used to talk of a broad government and Tzipi needs to get used to the fact that there can be no rotation, which contains an element of instability and has not proven itself in past instances," he said.
Lieberman reiterated that although "the rest of the factions are welcome to join" he would be satisfied with a coalition made up of the 70 Knesset members from Likud, Kadima and Israel Beiteinu. The Likud expressed its satisfaction over the endorsement, saying that they "welcome Lieberman's announcement." "It is now completely clear that a majority of MKs will endorse Netanyahu to form a government," the Likud statement continued, "and therefore Peres should entrust him with building a coalition."
Responding to Israel Beiteinu's endorsement during a tour of the South, Livni had implied that Kadima would not join a government led by Likud. "Politics are not only numbers, but a path," she said. "I will continue not only believing in our way, but also leading it, and I don't intend to become a fig-leaf for diplomatic paralysis. There is a path, and Israel should walk it."
Incumbent Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, of Kadima, said that Israel Beiteinu's recommendation of Netanyahu came as no surprise to him and his party. Attempting to join forces with Israel Beiteinu was admittedly a mistake, added Sheetrit in an interview with Army Radio. "Those who approached [Lieberman] on behalf of Kadima made a severe political blunder, since responding to him caused Labor and Meretz to boycott us, and ruled out any alternative for us," he said. Joining a coalition will bring upon the demise of Kadima, Sheetrit continued, insisting: "We cannot be the rubber-stamp for a right-wing regime; we cannot be a fig-leaf. We must go to the opposition, since joining a Likud government will obliterate Kadima."
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines reacted to the endorsement with a harsh attack on Kadima. "Kadima's dismissal of a possible attempt to achieve a victory for the Center and left-wing bloc is a pathetic attempt to claim 'victory,' and the fatal wooing of Lieberman led to this lamentable result," he said in a statement. "Kadima baked a cake, and will now have to eat it, perhaps at a future victory party," mocked Paz-Pines.
Earlier, Barak announced that his party would not endorse any candidate for prime minister. "The electorate has given the word," Barak said at the opening of a Labor faction meeting. "The picture is complicated and disturbing when Israel Beiteinu is the one to recommend who Israel's next prime minister will be. We are left with only one option, and that is to decide not to recommend anyone for the premiership."
Labor joins Meretz and the three Arab parties in deciding to remain in the opposition no matter who forms a government, to protest the assurances that Kadima gave Israel Beiteinu in pursuit of Lieberman's endorsement. Both Labor and Meretz are also being pressed to rehabilitate their parties after their election losses.
Peres's second day of coalition consultations began Thursday morning in a meeting with representatives of the Habayit Hayehudi party, who recommended Likud as the party to form the next government. Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Hershkowitz said that his party was in agreement with the Likud's response to the coalition demands of Israel Beiteinu. "Lieberman heads a Zionist party and I believe that we can sit with them peacefully," Hershkowitz said. Shas also told Peres that it was endorsing Netanyahu.
United Arab List (UAL) representatives told Peres that the party was not recommending anyone to form the next coalition. "Out of the two candidates, one is bad and the other is poor - we just don't know which is which," quipped UAL MK Ahmed Tibi upon his arrival at Beit Hanassi. "We'll just have to let Bibi (Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu) lead the country with his fascist partners."
As expected, National Union recommended Netanyahu for prime minister. "You can probably guess who we'll recommend to the president," National Union MK Uri Ariel said upon his arrival at Beit Hanassi.