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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Barak pursuing unity government with Likud

Ehud Barak's meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu is evidently his way of trying to ensure a decent share of the budget for the military. With Likud in the coalition, the government would not be so vulnerable to blackmail from ultraorthodox factions. In any case, it can give Labor bargaining power against the Kadima faction, allowing them to ask for more minister portfolios and other coalition perks. And if it fails? Well, there is no harm in trying, is there?
Ami Isseroff
Last update - 00:04 21/09/2008    
Barak, Netanyahu discuss 'recent political turn of events'
By Mazal Mualem, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters
Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Likud chairman and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Tel Aviv Saturday evening, to discuss what Barak's office described as the "recent political turn of events."
The meeting came three days after Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected chairwoman of the ruling Kadima Party, to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is expected to formally announce his resignation to the cabinet at is weekly meeting on Sunday.
Barak and Netanyahu are Livni's rivals in a race for the premiership if early elections are called.
Barak has stressed over recent days that he supports the establishment of an emergency national unity government, while Netanyahu, whose Likud party is expected to win if general elections are held, is interested in early elections which he says will result in a stable government.
According to reports, Barak and Netanyahu spoke for more than an hour about various topics, including the security threats facing Israel, the diplomatic processes the country is waging and economic issues on the agenda.
Barak's office issued a statement saying that he reiterated to Netanyahu the need for an emergency government, while the latter cited the failure of the current government, led by Kadima, as a clear reason to hold general elections as soon as possible and elect new leadership for Israel.
Despite disagreements between the two, they agreed to continue having regular meetings.
Barak is scheduled to meet with Livni on Sunday, as well as Shas Chair and Trade Minister Eli Yishai.
Meanwhile, a date for Olmert's resignation has yet to be set. "He will announce to the cabinet that he, as prime minister, will be resigning," his spokesman Mark Regev said on Saturday. "We have to schedule a meeting with [President Shimon] Peres for the formal resignation."
Once Olmert, who is facing possible indictment for corruption, officially hands in his resignation, Peres is expected to ask Livni, Olmert's designated successor, to form a government. She will need to recruit a majority of 61 MKs in order to succeed in this task.
Beyond that, officials said they were unaware of the precise timetable guiding the process that will see Olmert continue as premier in a caretaker capacity until a new governing coalition is formed - possibly many weeks away.
Livni narrowly won a hard-fought election on Wednesday to succeed Olmert as leader of the Kadima party. She faces a struggle to heal divisions within her own movement and to persuade smaller parties to join her in a new government.
By law, Peres can take 14 days to ask Livni, the foreign minister, to form a government and is likely to consult other party leaders. Peres is scheduled to fly out to New York on Monday to attend United Nations meetings, his office said.
Livni, a 50-year-old lawyer and one-time Mossad agent, would have six weeks to try to secure a new coalition deal - with Ehud Barak's Labor on the left and Jewish religious party Shas on the right, as well as with several smaller groups.
Should she fail - and Kadima has only a quarter of the seats in the Knesset - right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu could get his wish for an early parliamentary election, which polls indicate his Likud party would win.

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