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Livni to abandon coalition-building efforts

Livni to abandon coalition-building efforts

Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni has abandoned her efforts to put together a new coalition government and instead will recommend early parliamentary elections, her point man on the coalition talks confirmed Sunday.
Palestinians worried that the decision could put already fragile peace talks in limbo for months, until the elections are held. The balloting could also clear the way for opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who rejects sweeping territorial concessions to the Palestinians, to reclaim the premiership.
Livni has been trying to cobble together a government since she took over as head of the ruling Kadima Party from the corruption-tainted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in September. But partners in the current coalition used the changing of the guard to press new demands.
Kadima lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, who has been mediating the negotiations, said Livni was not willing to pay the price.
"When it became clear to Tzipi Livni that she had to choose between extortion and elections, the acting prime minister decided, enough extortion _ we'll go for quick elections," Hanegbi told Israel Radio.
Israeli media had reported late Saturday that Livni had reached this conclusion, but there had been no immediate confirmation.
Early elections appeared likely on Friday when the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party announced it would not join a Livni-led government.
Livni resisted Shas' demands that she refuse to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement for Jerusalem, whose eastern sector the Palestinians claim as capital of their hoped-for state. And she wouldn't promise Shas all the hundreds of millions of dollars it demanded for social welfare and its religious seminaries, aides said.
Shas has been a key member of the outgoing coalition, and without the party's support, it will be difficult for Livni to maintain a parliamentary majority.
Livni planned to formally convey her decision to President Shimon Peres later Sunday, government officials said. Elections for the 120-seat parliament, which were scheduled for November 2010, are likely to take place in February or March, political commentators have said.
Livni has been serving as Israel's chief peace negotiator since talks were formally relaunched last November at a U.S.-hosted summit. The sides had hoped to reach a final peace accord by the end of the year, though both Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have said that target is unrealistic.
An aide to Abbas warned that the Israeli political turmoil could threaten peacemaking.
"Time is precious. The next few months will be wasted because of new elections and the U.S. elections," Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.
Livni could still try to put together a government with a narrow majority, but it would not have the broad mandate or stability needed to shepherd through a peace accord with the Palestinians that would require painful Israeli concessions. Israel is also holding indirect peace talks with Syria after an eight-year freeze.
Before Livni's coalition-building efforts faltered, opinion polls had given her and Netanyahu even odds on taking power. Although some voters might like her tough stand against Shas, her failure to muster a government could hurt her political standing while burnishing Netanyahu's.
Peacemaking foundered during Netanyahu's 3-year tenure as prime minister in the 1990s, and his positions have not softened since.
He quit Ariel Sharon's government because he opposed Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and opposes ceding sovereignty over any part of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as capital of their hoped-for state and insist on shared sovereignty over the city. East Jerusalem is home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.
The move to elections could propel Olmert, who is stepping down to combat multiple corruption allegations, and Abbas to redouble their efforts to achieve a peacemaking breakthrough.
In an interview last month, Olmert said Israel would have to give up nearly all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem if it wants peace with the Palestinians. He also said Israel would have to relinquish the Golan Heights, likewise captured in 1967, to obtain peace with Syria.
A meeting between Olmert and Abbas, which had been scheduled for Monday, was postponed until further notice because of the Israeli political upheaval, Abu Rdeneh said.
Peres technically could ask another politician to try to form a government before elections are forced. However, as leader of the largest party in parliament, Livni was the only candidate with a realistic chance of doing so.


Updated : 2020-11-30 20:33 GMT+08:00