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Israel's Livni, Netanyahu agree to more coalition talks

ISRAEL'S centrist Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni and center-right Likud party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu decided to continue meeting in the next few days, in an effort to forge a national unity government, local daily The Jerusalem Post reported today.

The decision came after late last night discussions between the two at Jerusalem's Inbal Hotel which Netanyahu described as positive and Livni as negative, the report said.

Netanyahu, who has been assigned the task of forming Israel's next coalition government, said after the meeting that they would meet again in upcoming days in a bid to find common ground en route to the establishment of a coalition government.

"This is the will of the people," Netanyahu was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying, adding "it is possible to reach a joint path."

However, Livni, also Israeli Foreign Minister, said after the meeting that they had "deep differences on diplomatic issues," adding that she was also unsatisfied with Netanyahu's answers on electoral reform and civil unions.

"Tonight's meeting did not get me closer to sitting in the government or give me the answers I was looking for on the issues that really matter," said the Kadima leader.

A source close to Netanyahu responded that their main difference on the diplomatic issue was whether the coalition guidelines would call for "two states for two peoples," as Livni wanted, or something more vague, as Netanyahu did.

Hours before her meeting with Netanyahu, Livni told Kadima members that her party was unwilling to compromise on its path for peace just to join the coalition.

"The choice is between the advancement and actualization of a vision for two states for two peoples or losing our path in this realm," she said. "If we compromise in order to be partners in a government which has a path that is not our path, it will be betraying the confidence of voters."

In a statement released following the faction meeting, Kadima lawmakers said acceptance of the party's centrist policies on peace and domestic issues was "a condition for (the party) joining any unity government."

Netanyahu, who prefers a unity government, warned yesterday before meeting with Livni that he would not be bullied into forming a unity government.

"Unity can be achieved by dialogue, not by dictates, nor by arm-wrestling," said the Likud leader. "That's what we will do today --we'll begin the effort to join hands, first with Kadima, and tomorrow with the Labor Party."

Netanyahu, who said throughout the campaign that he wanted Kadima, Labor, or both in his government, will meet today morning at Jerusalem's King David Hotel with Labor chairman Ehud Barak.

Barak, also Israeli Defense Minister, has publicly ruled out joining the coalition, but Channel 10 reported that in closed conversations, he has put out feelers about whether his party would let him get out of his commitment.

Earlier yesterday, during the weekly cabinet meeting, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert urged Netanyahu to form a coalition government quickly, calling on Knesset (parliament) factions to mount coalition negotiations as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Olmert also praised Israeli President Shimon Peres' decision to task Netanyahu with forming the new government, saying that Israel needs a strong and stable government in order to contend with the challenges it faces.

Peres officially entrusted Netanyahu with the task of building a coalition on Friday, ten days after the Feb. 10 parliamentary election.

Netanyahu, who was previously the 9th prime minister of Israel from June 1996 to July 1999, would then have 42 days to forge a coalition cabinet. Until the new government is formed, Olmert, who was forced to resign amid a corruption scandal, will remain in office as caretaker prime minister.


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