ISRAEL: Livni enters the endgame
Now it gets serious.
As expected, Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni formally asked President Shimon Peres on Monday for a two-week extension of her deadline to form a new government. The extra 14 days, in addition to the 28 days since she narrowly won her Kadima Party primary, is a routine step and was quickly granted.
Livni's negotiations with other Israeli parties have proceeded at a steady but leisurely pace, party because of a solid month of Jewish holidays and partly because everyone involved knew the real deadline is Nov. 3.
She did manage to strike a deal with Labor Party chief and Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- one which, according to local media reports, grants Barak sweeping influence and the position of "the most senior minister after the Prime Minister."
Players in the race to fill those empty seats include the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties and the leftist Meretz Party. Shas is the largest of them with 12 seats, and the religious party's demands center on millions of dollars in welfare payments that favor larger ultra-Orthodox families and a government pledge not to negotiate over dividing Jerusalem.
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai told the Ma’ariv newspaper over the weekend that he would demand Livni put her Jerusalem commitment in writing as a condition for his party’s joining the government.
Talks are continuing daily and the next week should be dramatic for politics junkies. There are no more extensions coming.
Should Livni fail, it will likely mean new national elections early next year, but Peres would be within his rights to assign another Knesset member the task of forming a government.
-- Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem
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