Hopes for any peace settlement this year were scrapped when Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni informed President Shimon Peres that she has given up trying to form a coalition that would enable her to become Israel’s next prime minister. As a result, Israel likely will hold general elections in February to determine its next leader.
An ex-Mossad agent and mother of two, Ms Livni had been striving for five weeks to form a coalition government. But after negotiations stalled, she conceded that there was no possibility of doing so. Now Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish former prime minister from the Likud party, is tipped to become the next leader. Livni's political stature is diminished after her failed attempts to reach across the aisle. Israelis spurn any sign of weakness.
Livni had been counting on the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which holds 12 seats in the Knesset, to join her but she balked at the party’s demands not to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority over the status of Jerusalem.
"I'm not willing to be blackmailed, either diplomatically or in terms of the budget, and therefore, I will go to elections," Livni said. "We'll see all these heroes in 90 days."
Shas’ non-negotiable stance puts the future of a two-state solution at risk and jeopardizes future negotiations. Shas also insisted on a 1.5 billion shekel ($394 million) increase for child allowances but Livni was willing to offer only 400 million shekel ($105 million), saying, “There are some things the State cannot be sold for.” Shas’ voter constituency includes big families and religious seminary students who depend on the government for significant financial subsidies for school and living expenses.
As Kadima’s newly elected chairwoman, Livni had 42 days to form a coalition and technically, she still has until Nov. 3 to do so. But without the support of Shas and United Torah Judaism, another religious party which currently holds six seats, she cannot amass enough seats in the Knesset for a coalition that comprises centrist and left-of-center parties.
Peres now has until Tuesday night to review the situation and inform the Knesset speaker of Livni’s inability to form a government, after which any of the 120 members of the Knesset will have three weeks to try to form a coalition. Israeli law requires a minimum of 61 members to form a coalition.
If a government is not formed within three weeks after Livni announces that she was unable to form a coalition, Peres will call for general elections, which are expected take place Feb. 17. The Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will remain in office until a new coalition is formed following the new 2009 parliamentary elections. This is an unexpected breather for him, but his reputation is unlikely to be salvaged.
Olmert resigned his post Sept. 21 because of corruption investigations into his activities when he held ministerial positions in previous Israeli governments.