Israel: Livni 'to call' for early polls
Unable to form a coalition after ultra-Orthodox Shas party decided to walk off negotiations, Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, is now pondering over a call for early national elections in February 2009. "Opinion polls have indicated that Netanyahu's Likud party would sweep to power in a general election. Netanyahu is definitely bad news for the peace process"
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, has decided to call off talks to form a new governing coalition, Israeli Radio has said. The decision was made on Saturday during closed-door consultations after a key potential coalition partner pulled out of talks on Friday. Livni recommended an early national election. Elections would be likely to take place in February, the radio said on Saturday. Livni, the designated successor to Ehud Olmert, the scandal-hit outgoing prime minister, is expected to inform Shimon Peres, the president, of her decision on Sunday. On Thursday, Livni announced an ultimatum, giving potential partners three days to join a new government under her leadership or face the prospect of going to the polls. The Kadima party already had the backing of the centre-left Labour party and was expected to keep the small Pensioners party in the government but needed to get the ultra-Orthodox Shas party on board to secure a majority in the 120-seat parliament.
However, on Friday, Shas said it would not join Livni as she had refused to pledge that the future status of Jerusalem would not be on the agenda in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Status of Jerusalem: Sovereignty over Arab parts of Jerusalem, where around 270,000 Palestinians live, is a key Palestinian demand without which a peace deal would be impossible. The renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at a US-hosted conference last November was supposed to have produced a final deal by the end of 2008, but there has yet been no agreement. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, said on Saturday that a scheduled Monday meeting between Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had been postponed until further notice. He did not say why. Israeli radio, citing unnamed Abbas aides, said the postponement was due to internal Israeli political events. Given the lack of movement toward a peace deal, Palestinian and Israeli analysts say that an Israeli election, even if it were to put Benjamin Netanyahu, an opposition leader, into power at the head of a right-wing government, could ultimately have less impact than the upcoming US presidential vote. Opinion polls have indicated that Netanyahu's Likud party would sweep to power in a general election. Netanyahu is definitely bad news for the peace process - that doesn't exist anyhow - and Livni is a person who was the chief negotiator, and she didn't do anything," said Ghassan Khatib, a former minister in the Palestinian cabinet. "The only other alternative is if the American administration will try to engage. This can make a difference, regardless of the [composition of] the Israeli government."