Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni on Sunday hinted that she would not join a government led by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu. "I have already been No. 2 and from that position I will not be able to advance procedures," she said during closed talks.
"We went to elections and we won," said Livni at the first Kadima Party meeting since the February 10 elections. "Twenty-eight is greater than 27."
Kadima captured 28 out of 120 parliament seats, barely edging out Likud, which won 27. But parties that take a hard line on concessions toward the Palestinians won a total of 65 seats, versus 55 for the more moderate camp, meaning it would be easier for Netanyahu to put together a coalition government.
President Shimon Peres is allowed to assign the task of forging a government to whatever member of parliament he thinks is best able to achieve that goal, and is expected to announce his decision late this week.
Both Livni and Netanyahu have called on each other to join a broad-based government, but neither has indicated readiness to serve under the other.
Livni said Kadima's edge gives it the right to lead the government. "If not, we will continue to fight for what is right from the opposition," she told Kadima lawmakers.
Kadima is in danger of breaking apart, however, if it is relegated to the opposition. The party is an amalgam of hawks and centrists drawn largely from the Likud, and some of its lawmakers might break away and rejoin Likud if it is in power.
Earlier Sunday, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said Kadima would agree to a power-sharing arrangement in which Livni and Netanyahu would take turns being premier. Israel had such an arrangement in the 1980s, but unlike the present situation, parliament's moderate and hawkish blocs were evenly divided then.
As Israel's chief peace negotiator over the past year, Livni agreed to discuss with the Palestinians all the major issues dividing the two sides - final borders of the Jewish and Palestinian states, the fate of disputed Jerusalem and a resolution of Palestinian refugees' claims.
Livni has been holding private talks with Kadima MKs, in a bid to recruit their support in heading for the opposition.
Livni's associates made similar comments over the weekend, ahead of the faction's first meeting since last week's elections. "Either a rotating coalition or we go to the opposition," they said. "We won't sit in an right-wing government under Netanyahu's leadership."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has urged Livni to join the opposition rather than enter Netanyahu's coalition, it emerged on Sunday.
According to Olmert, such a political move would ensure the victory of Kadima once Netanyahu's government were to fall.
Livni herself is inclined to remain in opposition should she fail to form a parliamentary majority, and many Kadima members are likely to back this stance.
In response to Olmert's recommendation, Likud called on Kadima to join Netanyahu's government.
"It is unfortunate that Livni would not leave petty politics aside and consider national interests as a top priority," Likud said in a statement.
Likud officials said Sunday that Netanyahu would summon Livni for coalition negotiations immediately after tapped by Peres to form the government, Israel Radio reported.
Meanwhile, former Labor Chairman Amir Peretz on Saturday called on his successor, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, to step down from his position as party leader. Under Barak, Labor won only 13 seats - an unprecedented low for the faction.
Peretz has said he is intent on running for the party's chairmanship.
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