Israel's hard-line prime minister designate, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised Sunday to work with the United States to promote peace in the region as he sought to forge a moderate government with his chief rival — but did not reach a deal.
Netanyahu's crucial meeting with the moderate Tzipi Livni was intended to persuade her to ally with him in forming a new government and avoid an unwelcome alliance with ultra-nationalists to his right.
But after their meeting, Livni said the two were still at odds regarding talks with the Palestinians.
"We didn't reach any agreement. There are deep disagreements on this issue," she said. "This evening did not progress us on the core issues in a way that we can talk about a joint path."
'Overcome with goodwill'
Netanyahu said he and Livni found many points of agreement and their disagreement could be "overcome with goodwill." He did not give details of the meeting.
"If we want to find what unites us, it is possible and it is necessary at times like these," he said.
Both said they agreed to meet again soon.
Netanyahu, of the Likud party, is expected to extend Livni's Kadima party a generous offer that includes allowing her to remain as foreign minister.
Bringing in Livni would reduce international pressure on Israel and help stabilize Netanyahu's government. If he fails, he will have to turn to a narrow coalition with ultra-nationalists that could halt peace talks with Palestinians and harm Israel's ties with the Obama administration, which has promised to make pursuing Mideast peace a priority.
"I intend and expect to cooperate with the Obama administration and to try to advance the common goals of peace, security and prosperity for us and our neighbors," Netanyahu told reporters before the meeting with Livni. "I hope to do so in a unity government."
While Livni supports the formation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Netanyahu does not. He has championed an "economic peace" with the Palestinians as an alternative and supported West Bank settlement expansion that has irked Palestinian leaders.
Speaking to her Kadima faction on Sunday, Livni seemed eager to assume the role of opposition leader.
"The choice is between hope and despair, between promoting and implementing the vision of two states for two peoples and between a lack of direction in that field," she said, adding that if Kadima compromised its platform to join the government it would be "betraying the trust of the public."
Six weeks to form new government
Kadima edged out Likud in the Feb. 10 election, garnered 28 seats in the 120-seat parliament — one more than Likud. However, President Shimon Peres has appointed Netanyahu to form the next government because he has the support of a majority of the elected lawmakers. Netanyahu, a former prime minister, has six weeks to do so.
Visiting U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said a Netanyahu-led government — even one formed with a right-leaning alliance — would enjoy good relations with Washington.
"Our enemies, unfortunately, are as common as the values and the interests that have united us for all these years," he said.
Livni has said she will join only if Netanyahu agrees to a "rotation" arrangement whereby each would serve as prime minister for half of the government's four-year term. Netanyahu rejects the proposal.
After Peres appointed Netanyahu to construct the next government, Livni said she would refuse to serve as a "fig leaf for a government of paralysis" that did not promote peace.
Ehud Olmert, Israel's outgoing prime minister, continues in a caretaker role until Netanyahu can form a new ruling coalition.