John Lyons
The Australian
February 18, 2009 - 1:00am,25197,25069694-15084,00.html

LIKUD leader Benjamin Netanyahu made a final attempt yesterday to build a stable coalition government in Israel, apealing to the leader of the Kadima party, Tzipi Livni, that she should join him in a government broader than just the "nationalist camp".

He made the comments the day before President Shimon Peres was due to receive the official results from last week's election.

After receiving those results, Mr Peres is expected to announce this Friday to whom he will give the opportunity to form a government. That leader, expected to be Mr Netanyahu, will then have 42 days to return to him with a coalition government.

Both major parties - Likud and Kadima - yesterday continued bargaining with smaller parties to see whether they could present to Mr Peres a coalition with more than 60 of the Knesset's 120 seats.

Kadima said yesterday it had accepted Yisrael Beiteinu's major demands for any coalition support, although it appeared likely that Likud would be able to present a stronger case for a coalition.

Although Kadima has agreed to Yisrael Beiteinu's demand to support civil marriages, Likud would still be likely to match that demand if necessary.

The negotiations came as Mr Netanyahu outlined plans for trying to support the moderate Palestinian Authority, which runs the West Bank, after Israel's 22-day war in Gaza against the PA's rivals, Hamas.

"A combination of political talk and rapid economic development is the best way to create a new reality in the PA," he said.

"We need to strengthen the Palestinian moderates and weaken the radicals by pursuing rapid economic growth and bolstering the apparatus of the Palestinian security authority.

"If the Palestinian Authority is willing to work with us, together with the US administration and perhaps other governments, we can move rapidly to change reality on the ground, which is worth a thousand peace conferences."

The comments came as reports emerged that the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah had been forced to take out bank loans to pay its employees.

The Obama administration has made it clear that its strategy to try to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be to support the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas and try to isolate Hamas.

The first telephone call Mr Obama made to any world leader as new President was to Mr Abbas.

Critics have said any government led by Mr Netanyahu would be on a collision course with the Obama administration. Yesterday's comments, however, suggest he is prepared to support the same policy of trying to find a solution by supporting the economy of the West Bank and trying to weaken Hamas's support.

Mr Netanyahu told a conference of visiting American Jewish leaders yesterday that the Palestinian Authority was showing signs of success with the re-establishment of law and order and security that had come from its own police forces and security forces trained by the US.

Ms Livni told the same conference that Israel needed to be prepared to negotiate land to achieve longer-term peace.

"I believe that the vast majority of Israelis believe that to keep Israel as a Jewish state, as a democratic state, is by dividing land," she said.

And in a sign that Israeli leaders want the issue of Iran's nuclear program to be prominent, Mr Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that Iran was the greatest threat to Israel's security. "It will be difficult to stop the trickling of nuclear capabilities, even if primitive, in terrorist organisations," Mr Barak said.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017