Elections 2009 / Barak Refuses to Rule Out Joining Coalition With Lieberman

Should Kadima win most votes, it plans to seek authority to form government, even if right-wing bloc is bigger.

As the February 10 election date approaches, party leaders are ratcheting up their rhetoric. While Labor chair Ehud Barak refused to rule out joining a coalition that includes Yisrael Beiteinu, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert firmly endorsed his Kadima successor, Tzipi Livni.

Olmert will vote for the Kadima party next week, he recently told ministers at a cabinet meeting, saying "this time I will vote for a party headed by a woman." It has not been clear whom the departing leader would support, amid speculation that because of his poor relations with Livni he might vote for Likud, or even cast a blank ballot.

Some said Olmert might vote for the Pensioners Party due to his close relations with Minister Rafi Eitan.

Meanwhile Kadima figures said Wednesday they hoped that the gap between Kadima and Likud, which according to the polls today is some four Knesset seats, would narrow and disappear by the time of the elections.

If Kadima emerges as the largest party in the elections, even by one Knesset seat, it will ask President Shimon Peres to charge it with forming a government, even if the right-wing bloc is larger.

"I'm sorry I couldn't reach more people in this campaign," Livni said Wednesday.

"I exposed myself as much as possible, I answered every question, I have no skeletons in the closet, although some people try to make out that I do. I will go to every place and answer any question until the very last moment."

Livni's only chance of establishing a government, according to the last public opinion poll, stands with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu. But Lieberman hasn't yet said whose government he would agree to join and isn't likely to do so until after the elections.

Livni's situation may become even more precarious in view of the Labor party's internal turmoil: Barak is under pressure from his colleagues to declare that Labor will not partner up with Lieberman to form a coalition.

Among other party members, MKs Shelly Yachimovich and Ophir Pines-Paz and Ministers Shalom Simhon and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer are opposed to such a coalition. Nonetheless, Barak has refused to rule out the idea of a Labor-Yisrael Beiteinu partnership.

"Lieberman is not my cup of tea but we will not sit in any government whose guidelines are not compatible with our positions," Barak said.

He said it would not be right for him to discuss possible coalitions at this time. "Any further reference to Lieberman would only boost him more. Say I form a government with all our friends and he wants to join on the basis of our principles - why not?" Barak said.

Yachimovich, one of Barak's staunch supporters, blasted him for this remark.

"I expect Barak to muster the political and moral strength required to state clearly that we will not be partners with Lieberman. Failing to do so turns Labor into a wanton slut up for grabs," she said. "Ruling out a partnership with Netanyahu is not wise, because it implies support for Livni, while there is no reason to give it to her. But Lieberman is a dark, dangerous phenomenon. This is a person who brings out the darkest urges of part of the Israeli public. His slogan endangers democracy, and he is the moral red line which we must not cross. He is Kahane to all intents and purposes," she said.