Netanyahu's rivals eye centre-left pact for Israel vote

Sat Jan 5, 2013 2:27pm EST
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By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Three Israeli parties on Saturday proposed forming a center-left opposition bloc to try to topple conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the January 22 election, but disagreements over the terms suggested any pact could be elusive.

Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, said on Twitter that she and leaders of the centrist Yesh Atid and left-leaning Labour parties would "discuss the creation of a 'united front' to work together to replace Netanyahu".

Opinion polls suggest the three parties could collectively win about 37 of parliament's 120 seats, more than the some 35 seats projected for Netanyahu's rightist list and potentially enough to form the next Israeli coalition government.

Livni's proposed partners agreed to meet her in the coming days but quickly disagreed over whether the center-left should remain open to the idea of being part of the ruling coalition.

A unity government with Netanyahu has been ruled out by Labour, whose leader, Shelly Yachimovich, said this week she intended either to be the next prime minister or to sit in opposition.

By shunning any future partnership with Netanyahu, challengers could "plant enormous hope in the heart of the public ... and bring about grassroots mobilization for a determined and spirited struggle," Yachimovich said in a statement on Saturday.

"A unified move by ... all those who seek to change the government will be real and meaningful only if such parties act as we did," Yachimovich said.

Describing Netanyahu's re-election as a foregone conclusion, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said he wanted the center-left to be open to the idea of joining the coalition so as to offset the premier's religious-nationalist allies.   Continued...

Former centrist Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni gestures during a news conference in Tel Aviv November 27, 2012. REUTERS/Nir Elias