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Last bid for broad gov’t collapses in Israel

TEL AVIV - Israel’s hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu and his centrist rival Tzipi Livni fail to resolve differences that stand in the way of a broad coalition. While the PM-designate says he has done everything possible, outgoing FM defends her position on the main obstacle for coalition, peace talks with Palestinians

Hurriyet Daily News with wires
Last-ditch efforts to form a broad-based Israeli coalition failed on Friday, paving the way for a rightist government and fuelling concerns about prospects for peace with the Palestinians.

Hawkish Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu admitted he had failed to persuade outgoing Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to bring her centrist Kadima party into the coalition he is forging. "I have done everything possible to achieve unity ... but to my great regret, I faced categorical rejection from Mrs. Livni," Agence France-Presse quoted the right-wing leader as saying.

For her part, Livni said the talks "concluded without agreement on key issues, and we cannot be part of Netanyahu's government." "We will be a responsible opposition," she told media after the meeting in Tel Aviv, the second such talks since the Feb. 10 elections. Livni has argued that Netanyahu, a former PM, would block any chance of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

"Two states for two peoples is not an empty slogan," she said in reference to the U.S.-backed concept of a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, which is at the core of the Middle East peace talks.

"It is the only way Israel can remain Jewish and fight terror," said Livni, who has played a central role in the peace talks that were re-launched at a U.S.-sponsored conference in November 2007 following a seven-year hiatus.

Meeting with US envoy

Meanwhile, Netanyahu reportedly told visiting U.S. envoy George Mitchell behind closed doors late on Thursday that he intends to advance peace negotiations with the Palestinians and would respect commitments made by previous governments. Livni wanted Netanyahu to commit to the two-state principle. But the Maariv daily pointed out the Likud leader know all too well that "if he comes out with such a declaration at this time, his natural partners on the right will grumble, mutter something about betrayal and leave."

As Israel tries to form a new gov’t, a flurry of diplomatic activity now under way could bring significant shifts in the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians and among the Palestinians themselves. On Monday, donors will meet in Egypt for a conference on Gaza's reconstruction, according to The Associated Press. The Palestinians are seeking $2.8 billion dollars.

At the same time, Israel and Hamas are holding talks through Egyptian mediation meant to produce a long-term truce in Gaza in the aftermath of Israel's offensive against Hamas, which ended Jan. 18. Hamas wants Israel to open Gaza's blockaded border crossings, a step Israel says it won't take until Hamas returns Sgt. Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier it has held since June, 2006. Hamas is also holding talks with its rivals from Fatah aimed at ending the violent spat between them, which culminated in Hamas' rout of Fatah and takeover of Gaza in June, 2007. The goal is to forge a power-sharing agreement that will end the split, which threatens to derail the Palestinians' goal of achieving an independent state.

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