Livni to join coalition, ‘run talks with Palestinians’

Hatnua leader will reportedly serve as justice minister; United Torah Judaism prepares list of possible political concessions

Hatnua head Tzipi Livni (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
Hatnua head Tzipi Livni (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

Amid stalled coalition discussions, Hatnua head Tzipi Livni has reportedly agreed to bring her party into the government, where she will serve as justice minister while piloting negotiations with the Palestinians.

Reports surfaced Tuesday indicating that Livni, whose Hatnua party won six seats in January’s elections, had accepted a proposal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and that all that remained was for her to formally sign on to the role.

Livni has yet to confirm confirm the existence of an agreement but will likely do so at a press conference called for Tuesday evening.

Reports in the past two weeks have indicated that Hatnua has been working closely with Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu faction, but that the center-left party didn’t want to be the first one to sign a deal to join the emerging coalition.

Under the pending deal, Hatnua’s No. 3, Amir Peretz, would serve as environmental protection minister, and its No. 2, Amram Mitzna, would assume the chairmanship of the Knesset House Committee. The committee, which manages the day-to-day affairs of parliament, is currently chaired by Likud’s Ze’ev Elkin.

Livni would head the Israeli government’s negotiation team with the Palestinians, an area in which she would be subordinate only to the prime minister, Channel 2 reported. Her assumption of this position would likely make Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s joining the coalition more difficult, the report said.

Livni has been harshly critical of Netanyahu’s policies over the years, particularly on the international diplomacy front. She led the opposition as Kadima head for much of Netanyahu’s previous term as prime minister and sought to establish a joint front with other center-left parties before the elections to thwart his reelection, but did not rule out joining the Likud-Beytenu in the new coalition.

A lawyer by trade and a former Likud stalwart, Livni previously held the justice portfolio for two stints between 2004 and 2006 in the Ariel Sharon government.

Netanyahu has also been courting Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich to consider accepting the finance portfolio in the next government. Labor’s campaign platform was centered around social justice issues, and even brought in two rookie MKs from the 2011 summer protests, Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir.

Yachimovich, thus far, has publicly stated she would not join the government and that she prefers to head the opposition because her party’s views and those of Likud-Beytenu cannot be reconciled. “In the past we have seen Netanyahu’s antics and we all know how low it brought us,” she said at her faction’s meeting Monday.

Meanwhile, United Torah Judaism officials have begun compiling a document of principles outlining the political concessions the party is willing to make in coalition talks, Maariv reported Tuesday.

The party would support, for example, the evacuation of isolated settlements in the West Bank and agree to freeze construction in ones that are outside the main settlement blocs, and even vote for the cessation of settlement funding and commit to not expanding some of the large settlement blocs, in exchange for a continuation of the funding of yeshivas and religious schools and keeping the status quo regarding limited conscription of the ultra-Orthodox into the IDF.

The party, which controls the Knesset Finance Committee, said it would also reveal how much money it costs to keep isolated settlements and outposts in the West Bank, Maariv added.

UTJ’s move comes in light of Netanyahu’s failure thus far to reach a coalition agreement with the Jewish Home-Yesh Atid alliance, whose platform includes increasing ultra-Orthodox conscription.

“For a week there have not been any significant negotiations,” Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett said at the start of a faction meeting on Monday. “We are interested in joining the government, and as soon as they decide to hold [serious] coalition talks, a government can be finalized in 24 hours.”

Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, which has partnered with Jewish Home on several key policy issues in negotiations with Likud-Beytenu, expressed similar sentiments during his own faction’s meeting.

“It is the weekly meeting during which I report that nothing has happened,” he joked. Lapid went on to talk about what has become the major stumbling block for Likud-Beytenu in closing a coalition deal — that Yesh Atid and Jewish Home insist on sticking to their pre-election platforms, notably on the imperative to conscript ultra-Orthodox males.

Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.

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