Kadima's new chair will have to decide: Shas or new elections
Whoever is elected as Kadima's new leader will have to face two simple questions as he or she tries to form a new government: Is there a price sufficient to woo Shas that the other coalition members can live with? And if not, when should elections be held? The establishment of any government whose composition differs from the present one would be a great surprise.
It is no accident that all the candidates for Kadima chair prefer to continue the present government: The two main rightist parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, have ruled out coalition talks. "The prime minister must be chosen by the entire nation and not in a problematic primary," said Likud faction chair MK Gideon Sa'ar.
Shas, however, is expected to raise two demands that Kadima will have trouble swallowing: drastically increasing child allowances and granting Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools the same funding as state schools.
Shas Chairman and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai says that Shas would benefit either way, whether child allowances are raised or elections are called because Kadima refuses. In the past, however, the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has always preferred remaining in the coalition to early elections.
MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who is backing Shaul Mofaz in the primary, says: "Creative formulas can be found on issues like the child allowances and education funding." The question is whether the solutions can be creative enough for Shas and United Torah Judaism while not being too creative for Labor and Kadima.
Both Mofaz and Tzipi Livni would need Shas in the coalition. But Livni's willingness and ability to show creativity vis-a-vis Shas would probably be more limited.
"The more time passes, the smaller the chances of forming a government will be," said Labor Secretary General MK Eitan Cabel. "Within a week, we'll know whether there is potential to form a government."
Mofaz claims his chances of forming a government are greater, but Knesset sources say that if he is Kadima's new leader, elections will be a more attractive option for Labor, which fares better in the opinion polls when Kadima is led by Mofaz.
Mofaz does seem to have more options than Livni: Theoretically, he could form a coalition with Kadima, the right, the Haredim and the Pensioners. But Kadima would probably not allow him to form such a government, which would freeze the diplomatic process. Moreover, Schneller says Mofaz does not want a right-wing government, because its moderate positions "cannot be expressed if we are on the wing of the plane, only if we are in the cockpit."
Livni's ability to form a left-wing government is even more limited. Without the right, the ultra-Orthodox and the Arab parties, but with Meretz and the Pensioners, she would have a coalition of 60 MKs. Such a coalition would require support from the Arab parties, and Kadima's right flank would probably balk.
Moreover, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) says there is "no chance we would support a Livni government," meaning his party would absent itself from the vote.
Meretz prefers an alternative government over elections that might put Likud in power. Therefore, faction head MK Zahava Gal-On does not rule out joining the government, with or without Shas.
The head of the Pensioners faction, MK Itshac Galantee, rules out joining "any government that MK Moshe Sharoni joins." Sharoni broke away from the Pensioners, taking two other MKs with him.
If the new Kadima leader fails to form a government, the factions will begin talks on early elections. These will likely be held between January and March 2009.