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Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traded barbs on Monday evening after Livni's Kadima party voted to reject an offer by the premier to join the coalition.

Netanyahu branded Livni a "serial rejectionist of unity [governments]," and told advisors he was determined to widen the government in the face of national challenges - a hint that he would press on with his efforts to entice Kadima lawmakers to desert.

An associate of the premier's told Army Radio: "Livni is the last person who can preach morality, since he hosted a political gathering at home during wartime. Over recent months she's been meddling with the Labor party in order to split it up."

Livni, for her part, launched a blistering attack on Netanyahu over the way in which he had attempted to bring Kadima into the coalition.

"Today truth defeated the petty bartering that the Knesset saw last week by a man who is first of all the prime minister of Israel," Livni said at the end of a meeting by Kadima's Knesset faction.

"We saw him, during a week in which the whole country was waiting with bated breath to find out the fate of a soldier, preoccupied with gutter politics." She was referring to abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whose release Israel is attempting to secure through negotiations with Hamas.Earlier Monday, Netanyahu said he would offer Kadima three cabinet posts should it agree to join the coalition, a day after proposing Livni bring in the party in exchange for two minister without portfolio spots.

Livni added: "The cynical use of threats in order to appear to be calling for an emergency government - and bring in parts of Kadima - is not an act worthy of a prime minister."

Kadima relayed that the decision was made by a majority of the lawmakers during the weekly meeting in the Knesset, and that Chairwoman Tzipi Livi was in full agreement on the matter with Shaul Mofaz, her number two and a longtime rival.

During the meeting, Mofaz said: "Netanyahu's offer, as it appears today, is arrogant and unrealistic. This arrogance is not a good quality for a leader; I tell Netanyahu today what I told Livni a few days ago: Arrogance is not a substitute for leadership."

Netanyahu 'saddened' by Kadima refusal

Following the vote, the prime minister's bureau relayed that, "Netanyahu was saddened to hear that the Kadima faction, headed by Tzipi Livni, refused his offer and refused to broaden the national unity government. In light of the challenges Israel is currently facing, the prime minister had hoped that Kadima's stance would be different."

After meeting for 90 minutes on Sunday evening, Netanyahu and Livni were no closer to agreeing on whether Kadima would join the government, with each side blaming the other for the failure of the discussion.

Netanyahu said following the meeting that Livni was playing for time. Livni said she would consult her faction, but after phoning Kadima MKs on Sunday, she said she felt the meeting had been a political exercise.

Netanyahu made Livni a sweetheart offer: two ministers without portfolio, for her and MK Shaul Mofaz, membership in the inner cabinet and for her, membership in the senior forum of ministers.

Coalition agreements, to which Kadima would be obligated, would not change.

Sources in Kadima said the faction was likely to reject the offer, which could spur a split in the party.

Netanyahu and his aides continued yesterday to try to persuade seven Kadima lawmakers to leave the faction, the legal minimum needed to split off.

Netanyahu stressed that he wanted an answer by this evening. If Livni insisted, the prime minister would sweeten the deal by adding another minister.

Netanyahu told his aides after the meeting with Livni that if she's a leader, she'll have to decide.

"I feel like I did in March 2009 when she was looking for any excuse not to agree to a government under my leadership," he said.

During the meeting, Netanyahu reportedly told Livni that he would lead diplomatic negotiations and make all decisions.

Livni reportedly told Netanyahu that his attempts to split her party did not bode well for his good intentions.

"Such threats do not work on me, if you don't know it by now," Livni reportedly told the prime minister.

When Livni asked to discuss diplomatic issues, Netanyahu refused and said his Bar-Ilan address was the outline of his diplomatic policy.