Netanyahu Intensifies Bid to Poach Kadima MKs for Coalition

Efforts for broader centrist coalition come in response to ongoing crisis in Israel-U.S. relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will intensify efforts to draw Kadima MKs to the Likud, say sources close to him. The move comes in response to the crisis in relations between the United States and Israel, and the sources say the crisis atmosphere highlighted for many, including MK Shaul Mofaz, the need to rally for a broader centrist coalition.

"If Benjamin Netanyahu wants us in the coalition, he needs to alter its makeup, break up his extremist government, rebuild it with us. We will not enter a right-wing government and we will not join without an orderly political [peace negotiations] program," senior sources in Kadima told Haaretz in response to reports that the prime minister intends to draw MKs from the party into his coalition. "As long as that does not happen, there is no chance we shall join his government," the Kadima sources said.

Senior Likud sources said Thursday that if Netanyahu offers Kadima chair Tzipi Livni to join his government, it will be based on his previous offer - entry into an emergency government circa 1967, without any portfolios for Kadima MKs.

"Netanyahu has a strong coalition - why should he disrupt it. The insults from the Americans only made him stronger politically," Likud sources claimed. Although Kadima sources said that "for the time being it does not appear Netanyahu is serious," the party has not spoken in a single voice for some time. While those close to Livni present a tough line, another faction, which has kept the lines of communication open with the prime minister in recent months, has voiced interest in beginning coalition negotiations.

MK Otniel Schneller, who keeps in close touch with the prime minister, called Thursday for creating a national unity government.

"Leadership is measured in the ability to know how to behave correctly during a time of crisis," said Schneller, "and I have no doubt this is a difficult time in our ties with the U.S. Only with the power of unity will we be able to stand up to the political pressures and challenges. Once more I am calling on the prime minister to extend a hand and to the Kadima chair to take hold of that hand," he said.

Although Netanyahu returned from Washington battered, his coalition partners on the right have extended him further backing, welcoming him into a stable coalition.

Even though the "opposition" Labor MKs have called on the party to leave the government, Labor ministers prefer to stay silent and wait to hear more about the trip to Washington before commenting. But they have called for extensive discussions within the coalition and later at the party level on what happened in Washington and the political crisis with the U.S.

In his own party, Netanyahu is enjoying broad support, including from his bitter Likud rival, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, especially over the issue of Jerusalem.

"How have we gotten to this point in which construction in Jerusalem has become taboo? If we blink on this, we shall lose it all, and the minute that happens, the government will fall. The prime minister has a historical mandate from the Jewish people and we cannot make a different decision," Shalom said. Shas chairman (and Interior Minister) Eli Yishai, an instigator of the crisis, expressed pride Thursday on his contribution to the construction of Jerusalem. "I thank our Creator for giving me the privilege to be the minister who authorizes construction for thousands of homes in Jerusalem."