Between two presidents
The one question that interests Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni more than which of them President Shimon Peres will pick first to form a coalition, is what mandate President Barack Obama will give the new government.
All three of them understand that a right to extreme-right coalition will be headed on a collision course with the great power from day one. They fear that a Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu-Jewish Home-National Union-Shas coalition will condemn Israel to isolation.
But if Netanyahu/Livni try to dismantle even a windowsill of one mobile home in one outpost, as was promised a number of times to the United States, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai will dismantle the government.
Peres will sleep better with Netanyahu as prime minister than with Livni, whom he used to call "the high school girl" sleeping next to the red telephone. He already gave her the go-ahead to form a government once and she came back empty-handed. He views the round of consultations with faction leaders as a waste of time; in any case almost everyone will keep talking and lying to everyone else until the last minute.
The voices calling for him to let Netanyahu put together a fanatical nationalist-religious coalition and let the people pay the price have penetrated the walls of the President's Residence, where they compete with Yitzhak Rabin's statement of, "we do not have a spare country." In the great confusion, someone has even said that Bibi and Livni will eventually return to Peres without a coalition and send Israelis back to the polls.