Livni expected to recommend snap elections

The head of Israel’s largest Kadima party, Tzipi Livni, called off efforts to form a governing coalition and is likely to recommend early elections, according to political sources, after major differences emerged in talks with the Shas party.


Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was set to call for early elections on Sunday after failing to form a new government, dashing faint hopes of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians in 2008.

Livni was to make the announcement after an afternoon meeting with President Shimon Peres, a month after he appointed her to try to form a government to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who resigned amid corruption allegations.

Her efforts collapsed after the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said Friday it would not join the government because of her refusal to accept their budgetary demands and to pledge not to discuss Jerusalem with the Palestinians.

"Recent days have turned the coalition demands impossible and I had to draw the line," Livni's office quoted her as telling her centrist Kadima party ministers before Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.

"When it turned out that everyone was taking advantage of this opportunity to make illegitimate demands, both financial and regarding the peace process, I decided to stop all this and go for elections," Livni said.

A call for snap elections would extend the country's political limbo for at least another three months and could lead to the demise of the already stalled US-backed Middle East peace process relaunched last November.

Both Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas pledged to try to reach a deal before US President George W. Bush leaves office in January, but despite months of negotiations, the talks seem to have made little visible progress.

Officials in Olmert's office, however, told AFP that the beleaguered premier would continue his talks with Abbas in a bid to make "as much progress as possible in the talks."

Recent polls indicate that the right-wing Likud party under the leadership of hawkish former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would emerge as the largest party after elections, with Livni's centrist Kadima coming in second place.

Likud MP Yuval Steinitz welcomed Livni's decision.

"We are sure we will win the elections and afterwards we will form a broad unity government which will be able to face the economic crisis and the security threats from Iran and (the Islamist Palestinian movement) Hamas," he told AFP.

It nevertheless remained unclear if new elections, the fifth in less than 10 years, would allow a single party to form a stable coalition in the country's fractured 120-member parliament.

The centre-left Labour party, which agreed in principle to join a government with Kadima, blamed Livni for the failure to avoid new elections.

"Right now we are heading for elections and Labour has done everything in its power to avoid this situation. We gave Livni all our support but she failed," Labour secretary-general MP Eitan Cabel told AFP.

"But maybe it is better this way, because any government with Shas would have failed to make progress in the peace talks," he added.

Kadima MP Yoel Hasson meanwhile backed the call for early elections.

"Livni acted out of national responsibility and made the right decision. She decided not to give in to extortion. We will go to elections and Livni will win," Hasson told AFP.

Livni, a 51-year-old former Mossad agent, hopes to become Israel's second woman prime minister after Golda Meir, who held office from 1969 to 1974.

As foreign minister she has been heading the negotiations with the Palestinians.

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