Jerusalem Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to his moderate rivals Friday to join a unity government — a tricky alliance that would let the hawkish Israeli leader avoid relying on an unstable grouping of right-wingers almost sure to collide with the Obama administration and each other.
“I call on the members of all the factions ... to set politics aside and put the good of the nation at the center,” Netanyahu said during a brief ceremony after President Shimon Peres tapped him to try to put together Israel’s next governing coalition.
Although the election gave Netanyahu’s Likud Party and other right-wing groups a majority in parliament, the prime minister-designate has a delicate task in forming a government.
Bringing moderates into a coalition would dilute the power of the nationalists who criticized the peace talks pursued by the outgoing centrist government. Netanyahu opposes sweeping territorial concessions to the Palestinians and wants to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
However, the centrist factions would produce a more stable government with international support than Netanyahu would probably get with a narrow coalition of conservatives who have their own disagreements. They have far different agendas when it comes to domestic issues, such as whether Israel should allow civil marriages.
In his appeal for a unity government, Netanyahu singled out “first and foremost” Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the governing Kadima Party, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, chairman of the Labor Party.
Livni is the key to a broad-based government and she indicated she might be willing to come on board. But because Kadima remained Israel’s largest party in the Feb. 10 election, although far short of a majority, she would certainly demand a high price: sharing the premiership with Netanyahu, who doesn’t want to serve only half a term.
Livni, who led Israeli negotiators in a year of peace talks with the Palestinians, agreed to meet with Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss his unity overture. Earlier Friday, she said she would not join a hard-line government and was prepared to sit in the opposition “if necessary.”
“I will not be able to serve as a cover for a lack of direction. I want to lead Israel in a way I believe in, to advance a peace process based on two states for two peoples,” Livni said.
The Palestinian Authority’s peace negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said any Israeli government that did not accept the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and continued settlement building “will not be a partner.”
“We will not be in the negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” Erekat said.
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamic militant Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip, said Netanyahu’s appointment “indicates that there is no possibility for security and stability in the region in the coming period.” Hamas is not party to peace talks and is shunned by Israel and Western powers as a terrorist organization.