, JERUSALEM, Dec 25 – Israeli opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni on Friday mulled an invitation to join the government, though the premier himself was reportedly doubtful she would accept his offer.
Either way, hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear he intended to poach members of Livni\’s factious Kadima party, even if the centrist opposition leader opts not to join the government.
"I would be very happy to see her join, but I have no plans to give up on the attempt to expand the coalition base," YNet News quoted him as saying.
Israeli media said Netanyahu was doubtful Livni would accept the offer which would land her a post as minister without portfolio.
"In closed forums he clearly hints that if that Livni turns him down, he will work to split the opposition faction," YNet said.
After meeting Netanyahu on Thursday, Livni voiced serious reservations, saying the offer was a ploy by the prime minister. "This is a transparent media spin," the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot quoted her as saying.
But with several Kadima members threatening to walk over to the government, Livni has put the issue on the agenda for discussion by her party\’s leaders.
Netanyahu\’s offer comes at a time when Kadima is torn by internal divisions, while the premier is struggling to maintain stability in his government.
He made it clear he had no intention to enter lengthy negotiations but insisted his offer is serious.
"I would be very, very glad if Tzipi Livni would agree to join," Yediot Aharonot quoted him as saying. "If all of Kadima is in the government, this would strengthen Israel\’s standing internationally and on the Palestinian track."
Middle East peace efforts have been at a standstill since Israel launched a devastating three-week offensive in Gaza one year ago.
The Palestinians insist they will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel completely freezes settlement building.
Under US pressure, Netanyahu announced a partial, 10-month moratorium, but it fell short of Palestinian demands and angered his rightwing allies.
His difficulties in maintaining stability in the government were underscored in recent days as key ministers from his rightwing Likud party objected to a proposed swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners against Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip for over three years.
Livni\’s Kadima party, is the largest in the 120-member parliament with 28 MPs, but had failed to form a government after the February elections and refused to join forces with Netanyahu, whose Likud-led governing alliance includes far-right and religious parties as well as the centre-left Labour party.