If nothing is certain but death and taxes, all the rest is even less certain in Israeli coalition negotiations. Still, in prime minister-designate Bibi Netanyahu’s second attempt on Friday to woo Tzipi Livni — current foreign minister and head of the Kadima Party — into his coalition, he took a second strong rebuff.
Netanyahu’s center-right Likud Party won 27 Knesset mandates (out of 120) in the February 14 elections, one mandate less than center-left Kadima. But with the six center-right parties winning decisively as a bloc, it’s Netanyahu who’s been tasked with forming the next government.
And while he can probably form a center-right majority government of 65 Knesset members without courting Kadima and the other center-left party, Labor, he plainly regards such a coalition with trepidation. It would include parties and individuals perceived as extremist both by the Israeli center-left and abroad, and would, Netanyahu fears, give him a weak basis for pursuing critical national tasks like coping with Israel’s mounting economic crisis and possibly dealing militarily with the Iranian nuclear threat.
Yet in Friday’s meeting with Livni — in which he again made a generous offer of cabinet posts for Kadima — the sticking point was, again, Netanyahu’s refusal to commit himself to a full-fledged, sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu is reported to have said: “A final agreement will see the Palestinians having the full authority to run their lives. But do you want them to have control of the air space, their own army, the right … to make alliances with other states like Iran, or control over borders that would allow for weapons imports? … If they get full sovereignty it will pose a risk to [Israel's] security.”
Critics of Livni — including some within Kadima who favor continuing the coalition talks with Likud — ask why at this stage, with the Palestinians split between Hamas-ruled Gaza and weak, corrupt Fatah rule in the West Bank, she’s giving the Palestinian-state issue such centrality even as Israel faces grave, immediate challenges like the economy, Iran, and ongoing rocket fire. Livni’s stance, on the other hand, has a powerful backer in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said on Friday, regarding her upcoming visit to Israel this week, that “we will certainly convey our strong commitment to a two-state solution.”