By Aron Heller
Monday, February 23, 2009
JERUSALEM, Feb. 22 -- Israel's hard-line prime minister-designate, Binyamin Netanyahu, promised Sunday to work with the United States to promote peace in the region as he sought to forge a moderate government with his chief rival -- but did not reach a deal.
Netanyahu's crucial meeting with the centrist Tzipi Livni was intended to persuade her to ally with him in forming a new government and avoid an unwelcome coalition with ultra-nationalists to his right.
But after their meeting, Livni said the two remained at odds regarding talks with the Palestinians.
"We didn't reach any agreement. There are deep disagreements on this issue," she said. "This evening did not progress us on the core issues in a way that we can talk about a joint path."
Netanyahu said that he and Livni found many points of agreement and that their disagreement could be "overcome with goodwill." He did not give details of the meeting.
"If we want to find what unites us, it is possible and it is necessary at times like these," he said.
Both said they agreed to meet again soon.
Netanyahu, of the Likud party, is expected to extend Livni's Kadima party an offer that includes allowing her to remain as foreign minister.
Bringing in Livni would reduce international pressure on Israel and help stabilize Netanyahu's government. If he fails, he will have to turn to a narrow coalition with ultra-nationalists that could halt peace talks with the Palestinians and harm Israel's ties with the Obama administration, which has vowed to make pursuing Mideast peace a priority.
"I intend and expect to cooperate with the Obama administration and to try to advance the common goals of peace, security and prosperity for us and our neighbors," Netanyahu told reporters before meeting Livni. "I hope to do so in a unity government."
Although Livni supports talks intended to lead to the formation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Netanyahu does not. He has championed an "economic peace" with the Palestinians as an alternative and supported West Bank settlement expansion, which has irked Palestinian leaders.
Speaking to her Kadima faction Sunday, Livni seemed eager to assume the role of opposition leader.
"The choice is between hope and despair, between promoting and implementing the vision of two states for two peoples and between a lack of direction in that field," she said.
Kadima edged out Likud in the Feb. 10 election, garnering 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament -- one more than Likud. However, President Shimon Peres has appointed Netanyahu to form the next government because he has the support of a majority of the elected lawmakers.
Livni has said she will join only if Netanyahu agrees to a "rotation" arrangement whereby each would serve as prime minister for half of the government's four-year term. Netanyahu rejects the proposal.