March 13, 2009 / 9:49 PM / 11 years ago

Israel's Netanyahu and Livni make new contact

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist leader Tzipi Livni have renewed contacts to explore the possibility of forming a joint government, political officials said on Friday.

Israel's Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 18th Knesset, The new Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Hollander/Pool

The contacts, apparently conducted via intermediaries, were only at an exploratory stage, but if successful, could help right-wing leader Netanyahu avoid tensions with U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration over Middle East peace strategies.

Livni’s Kadima party called off talks on a possible coalition with Netanyahu earlier this month after Livni accused him of not being committed to pursuing the U.S.-sponsored vision of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

But emissaries for Likud party leader Netanyahu and Kadima party head Livni have lately held unofficial contacts, officials in both parties said, confirming Israeli media reports.

It was unclear whether formal negotiations would resume, as Netanyahu was still pursuing talks for a narrower government with rightist parties.

Yoel Hasson, a senior Kadima lawmaker, said the party “would be happy to renew unity talks” with Netanyahu, but on condition any joint government set Livni’s goals as policy, which she has said included pursuing a two-state solution with Palestinians.

Netanyahu, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 19991, was seen as interested in an alliance with Livni to avoid colliding with Washington’s diplomatic goals.

Netanyahu wants contacts with the Palestinians to focus on economic and security issues rather than territory, a concept Palestinian leaders reject.

A GOVERNMENT “NOBODY WANTS”

Hasson of Kadima told Reuters there were growing concerns in both parties the ultra-nationalist coalition Netanyahu is building “would be one that nobody wants, it won’t be stable.”

“This would be a government that without a doubt could not follow the current global diplomatic agenda,” of seeking a two-state peaceful solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Hasson said. “They (rightist lawmakers) wouldn’t let Netanyahu advance with the American government or the Palestinians.”

Israeli television and news websites said Kadima was eyeing a possible power-share in which Netanyahu and Livni would rotate the post of prime minister, similar to a deal forged in 1984 between the left-leaning Labour party and Likud.

The latest reports of contacts for a possible union came as Netanyahu was reported to be facing obstacles in his efforts to forge a coalition with far-right and religious parties, some of whose representatives were making contradictory demands.

Netanyahu faces an April 3 deadline to form a government, after being named by President Shimon Peres last month to build a coalition following a parliamentary election held on February 10.

Peres chose Netanyahu although Livni’s Kadima party had outpolled Likud by one seat, 28 to 27, because he appeared to have the most potential allies with whom to form a government.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Andrew Roche

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