Nearly a month after the national elections, Likud-Beiteinu has finally sealed its first coalition agreement: Hatnua Chairwoman Tzipi Livni finalized a coalition agreement with Likud-Beiteinu on Tuesday. According to the agreement Livni will serve as justice minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third government and will also head the Israeli negotiation team during any future peace talks with the Palestinians. In addition, Livni will be a member of the prime minister's inner cabinet.
Netanyahu will supervise over the negotiations, and any draft agreement will require the government's approval.
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Fellow Hatnua member Amir Peretz, a former defense minister, will apparently receive the Environmental Protection portfolio. However, there is a small chance that Amram Mitzna, who is placed second on Hatnua's Knesset roster, will serve as Environmental Protection minister.
First coalition deal. Livni and Netanyahu (Archive photo: Yaron Brener)
The agreement between Livni and Netanyahu was reached without the knowledge of Hatnua faction members. Haim Ramon, Livni's political ally, was not informed of the deal.
"The commitment to (peace) negotiations led to a partnership," Livni told reporters during a joint press conference with Netanyahu. "Two and a half months ago my colleagues and I formed Hatnua, and we vowed to fight for a diplomatic agreement, even if it doesn't pay off politically. This led to a partnership with the prime minister after I was (given the necessary authority) to negotiate with the aim of ending the conflict with the Palestinians.
"The diplomatic issue is at the center of our lives. This is what is bringing the president of the United States (to the region)," she said. "Hamas controls Gaza and wants to take over the West Bank. This could lead to the loss of the State of Israel's Jewish identity."
'Promoting peace.' PM, Livni during press conference (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Livni, a former foreign minister, further told reporters "We need to work on the issues of equalizing the share of the burden. It is no less important than working on Iran, Syria and the Palestinian issues. I am here to exhaust every option that might lead to peace. I can only hope that the coalition will indeed be wide."
Netanyahu, who spoke before Livni, said Israel faces "great challenges – some of them unprecedented. I wish to make it clear that the threats from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah do not stop for a minute, and in order to provide an answer to these threats we must form a broad and stable government that unites the nation. In addition to our commitment to security, we must also make an effort to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.
"Livni will be a senior partner in the effort to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians aimed at achieving peace between to nation states," the premier said.
According to the agreement, following the establishment of the next government, a team of ministers, headed by Netanyahu, will be set up to oversee the peace process. Livni, as well as the next defense and foreign ministers, will be a part of the team.
The agreement states that once the government is established, "the prime minister and justice minister will work to resume the diplomatic process. In case an agreement is reached, it will be brought to the government and Knesset and, if the law requires, it will be put to a referendum."
Livni is the first leader from the Left-Center bloc to sign a coalition agreement with Likud-Beiteinu. Her party won only six seats in the January 22 elections. Following the vote, Livni vowed not to join the government without other Left-Center factions.
"Hatnua was the only party to wave the diplomatic flag in the elections," she said at the time, adding that the party would agree to be a part of the next government only if it will "lead the diplomatic process, as we promised during the election campaign."
The 28 days given Netanyahu to form a government will be over in less than two weeks, but apart from the deal with Livni, no progress has been noted in the coalition negotiations.
Sources within the Likud-Beiteinu negotiation team said that the PM is planning a breakthrough in the next few days – so that agreements can be reached with the coalition partners before an extension is required.
Concurrently, Lapid and Bennett stated that negotiations have stalled. "It's been a week since any significant negotiations have taken place," said Bennett.
"Habayit Hayehudi has time, Israel doesn't. Our faction is interested to be in the government to serve, and we're interested in joining Netanyahu. The moment they decide to negotiate I believe an agreement can be reached within 24 hours."
Yuval Karni is a Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent